#106 Summer Evening

Summer evening.

A Maine beach, the slanted setting sun’s rays highlighting parts of the shoreline as it lowers in the western sky. The last hours of the daylight fading, the tanned bodies holding out, still savoring the last moments of the day at the beach. Picnics eaten, the last games of catch being played, the dogs romping in the water (only allowed at day’s beginning and day’s end) their owners relieved hoping all that running and playing means settled, sleep-filled nights.

Many couples walk at sunset along the hard packed sand, their pace a stroll at this hour unlike their earlier workouts. Skateboarders are still out on the road working their way around cars moving slowly, drivers gazing at the water, and surfers catch the last waves while they still have enough light to see them coming.

The gulls flap and circle looking for snacks before dark, hoping for discards, sandwich parts or soggy chips. Junk food addiction effects more than humans. 

Mostly, the little ones have been gathered, packed up and now fed, clean and sleepy, safely tucked in beds in rented spaces early enough to ensure tomorrow’s daybreak awakening. Is there anything more wonderful than watching children playing endlessly on a beach?

Arms flap trying to swat bugs away as the sun sinks and mosquitoes actively search for blood now the heat has backed off. Beach chairs, backpacks, water bottles and slogan covered, chocked-full bags of every description, soaked and gritty, draped over departing beach goer bodies. By tomorrow those wretched looking bags will be dry and ready to be filled, to head out again, each day repeating the pattern until departure day. The memories of sand and sun and water, laughter and sunblock, ocean dunks, salty water swallowed, and boogie board triumphs, these are the things we remember, what we hold close to our hearts.: vacation. Many months of photos  and reminiscing ahead, the knowledge of icy cold sand, horizontally blowing snow, and sparse, hungry birds remain unknown. Winter beaches are south not north, the feel slightly similar yet there is always something extra when it’s summer. 

#105 I Wake to the Stark Reality of This House

I wake to the stark reality of this house.

I wake to the sound of the ocean, the vast water capable of absorbing all of my tears yet never once softening–

That’s not the purpose of the ocean.

I wake to the stark reality of hard surfaces, of wood and glass that reverberate sound without absorption–

That’s not the purpose of wood nor glass.

I wake to the stark awareness of yet another day spent in my own company, another day with my thoughts as companions when I long for the warmth and comfort of friends or family–

That’s not the purpose of aloneness.

I wake to the stark hardness of political messaging that uses division and hate that tears at the fabric of my understanding of humanity–

That is not the purpose of humanity.

I wake to another day of stark being and hard reality as I long for the embrace of compassion, first for myself then radiating to all others, each of us waking to yet another day of trying to stay safe while struggling with isolation and wanting connections–

That is the purpose of compassion.

#104 Large and Small

Large and Small.

Mid-July afternoon. Ocean calm, waves as close to lapping the rocks as it’s ever going to get. Three kayakers offshore, not paddling, sitting still in the water. A few fishermen casting from the rocks. No working boats out on the water. Perfect conditions all.

The dorsal fin appears briefly, its dark presence coming out of the water, just fractional seconds of black movement, then quickly sliding beneath the water’s surface. A few moments later a longer glide, the fin followed by the arching back, higher out of the water this time, more seconds of dark, sleek, and smooth rising then quickly disappearing under the water. The excited catch in the throat, my first whale sighting of the year and the return of that wondrous affirmation of presence.  The whales come close at low tide, Minke and human fishermen both are seeking to fill their bellies from the the silver schools of fish who seem drawn to the just offshore water warmed now by a few days of Maine heat. The kayakers keep a respectful distance. What it is like to witness a whale from such a small craft at water’s level?

Two days ago I spotted the first Monarch butterflies flitting about the plants along the shore. Beautiful milkweed, the monarchs’ food of choice, has been bloomIng these past two weeks, enticing the butterflies. Conscientious gardeners have sown seeds as naturally occurring swath habitat has been gobbled up by humans not thinking of butterfly needs. How can anyone not long for the familiar black and orange wings looking like tiny,  moving, lead glass church windows?

The fleeting presence of these beautiful creatures so large, so small, watched for by searching eyes yet so easily missed by others close enough to see, yet remaining unaware. Moments of high summer swiftly passing, so ethereal,  a shimmer of presence, then vanishing. Butterflies float, seemingly  meandering from flower to flower, impossibly light creatures of air while the huge water world gliders, the dark shapes part the vast blue liquid then disappear into the depths. Each is a quick presence, a fleeting glimpse of other ways of being.

Summer on the edge of a vast ocean tugs at our spirit of mystery and wonder. What do we see? What do we miss seeing?

#103 Animal Rights

Animal Rights.

Some years the wildlife is more prolific than others. Acorns are often the reason given for the abundance of squirrels or chipmunks. The year the oaks rain down their heavy seed pods the survival rate of these pests or adorable critters (choose your own description) goes way up. When abundant supplies of nature’s bounty fails there is much starvation going on in those nearby woods and fields. And in your backyard. 

I attend a lot of wildlife programs at the local public library, or did when they could be held in the Community Room which was often chock full of little kids and snow white heads with every age in between. The love of nature and critters is a very level playing field which pays no attention to age. The format of these programs is usually a lecture followed by lively questions and answers and, the most important part, visiting animal “ambassadors”, birds or other rescued critters who for one reason or another can’t be returned back into the wild. It’s the proximity, the up-close-and-personal chance to look into the eyes of a raptor or what turns out to be the most adorable face of an opossum named Ophelia, that gets us up and out of our chairs on an early snowy evening in February to be in close to fur or feathers. 

This year there is an over abundance of chippies. They are scurrying everywhere. If nature sticks to the plan this probably means well fed (and higher survival rates) for foxes and coyotes as well for as owls and hawks. But chipmunks can do a lot of damage to gardens and houses. So too can the mice that thrive on the leftovers from bird feeders. A love of feathered things brings along the risks of mouse invasions (or worse, rat infestations) and subsequent chain predators such as bears or bobcats. The balance in wildlife populations is constantly shifting. 

This summer there are also battlegrounds in many backyard in the form of wars on woodchucks, those possessors of voracious appetites of entitlement as they turn toward gardens made with love and lots of hard work in hopes of tasty backyard fruits and veggies. For you, not for them. In this year of generalized and specific awfuls many backyard gardens became beacons of hope and solace. Just as old and new gardeners were beginning to reap bountiful rewards those miserable terrors moved in overnight and destroyed everything. It is astounding how much destruction can be wrought in so little time by such small fur-balls. And don’t get me started on the continual warfare with deer. They are taller with even bigger stomachs. No compromise is possible. The energy and costs to reap the rewards of backyard gardening was described in a book published a number of years ago entitled “The $40 Tomato”. The ouch factor made it hard to chuckle the first time I read that title as it came a little too close to my own efforts at growing backyard yummies.

People who have never tasted freshly picked, out-of-the-ground vegetables can more easily defend wildlife. It is quite possible they have not needed to grow their own food out of economic necessity and, if the food chain supply line holds, they may get to keep their concept of loving nature through rose-colored spectacles. Those of us who have lost our well intended, possibly critically needed, homegrown foods to the digestive cravings of our four legged neighbors have quite a different viewpoint. But the rhythms of abundance and scarcity apply also to human beings, something we humans seemed to have forgotten even though our pendulum may have begun moving in a difficult direction and then we may be sharply reminded that human history is fraught with just such struggles even for us. 

Note: This caterpillar gets to remain munching my parsley, one of its favorite foods, as I believe it will become an Eastern Black Swallowtail Butterfly and there are never enough of those. 

#102 I Can’t Breathe

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I Can’t Breathe.

“I can’t breathe”, said the earth

gasping

and then

the fumes from cars and trucks

all over the world

stopped

and in the cities

the distant mountains

could again be seen.

 

“I can’t breathe”, we said

as we sat behind our closed doors,

the early spring still cold,

the shared outdoor spaces

roped off,

barricaded.

Social distancing meant

staying inside

without enough

movement

or

air.

 

“I can’t breathe”, said yet another

black man

restrained,

life flowing out from his body

as one more oppressor

prevailed

while the camera watched

then sent the image out

into the world.

 

“I can’t breathe”, shouted the

masses protesting

the accumulation of despair

and injustice

in shock waves

throughout the world.

 

“I can’t breathe” say

the non-mask wearers

defending their non-compliance

with no understanding

or regard

for the safety of others.

 

“I can’t breathe”, says

my spirit

as it cries out for

a better world

with love

and compassion

filling the

longing hearts,

the twisted painful

psyches

not yet recognizing

what they

most need

is light

air

and

breath.

 

 

Three Words. 70 Cases. The Tragic History of ‘I Can’t Breathe.’
https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/06/28/us/i-cant-breathe-police-arrest.html?referringSource=articleShare

#101 Deep Quiet

Deep Quiet.

What can be said for falling
into the farthest back folds of your closet
the place where silence reigns?

How is it possible to live day after day
saying only “Good Morning” with as much warmth and kindness as you can muster, then later “Thanks for bringing in the package”, eight words in an entire day while a stream of words run a constant presence in your brain but never leaves your mouth?

In this time of social distancing, of staying inside to remain safe and healthy
for over three months, is finding the daily isolation a bit too comforting? Is relishing the lack of face to face interchange, relinquishing the sound of words to the silent controlled realm of the keyboard, using words only when you have a handy “delete” function if you say too much or are a tad too honest, keeping everything upbeat and never discussing the darkness that lurks from all the edges, where you really want to be?

I walked a little at the re-opened park a mile or two away, where families returning to the normalcy of pizza boxes and blankets were sharing weeknight take out dinners or picnics, laughing together. The park, always a place of solace, made now ever so precious after the barriers and “Closed” signs came down. The families sat close together in household groupings while I moved around them, distanced, feeling the impact of my aloneness and isolation in contrast. During all these days of staying apart their being together for all this time was obvious. How had I become that lonely old woman walking unseen among the laughing clusters with an aching heart and gallons of unshed tears?

Is it a natural pairing, this aging and sliding away into our own company, shielding oneself from constant interaction, finding preference for solitude? If so, once again I am the outlier for I crave the warm presence of others, the interchange of observations of experience and difference, so while I’ve made use of the quiet, it does not fill me with joy.
Should it?

#100 Consider the Roses

Rugosa Branch Bird2

Consider the Roses.

June loveliness

the beach roses

in full scent

the large pink clumps

and green leaves

dotting the landscape

clustered on the seashore

dead branches always

poking above the roses.

The conditions for

rugosas

four season harsh

growing on the edges of

a rough and often cold

Atlantic.

The fierce winds coming

off the ocean creates

harsh bare stalks

with sharp

protruding thorns

good perches for

little birds who

stop and sing

surveying their territory

sounding

like joy.

 

Mid-summer blossoms

start to form hips

the seed pods which

form in clusters

begin as orange

but by late fall

turn a

deep red hue

eventually looking like the

dried fruit

they become

a nutrient packed

food source for the birds

and small creatures that

scurry around the shore

finding safety among rocks.

 

I’ve shooed away

blossom pickers

who arrive in June

plucking the blossoms for

whatever purpose

informing them their harvesting

robs the critters who live here

of an important food

for their survival.

The pickers fail to notice and

are annoyed at my interference

in their quest.

 

Foraging humans

are not my cup of tea

the animals and birds have

no grocery stores.

Humans who are fond of

harvesting wild foods rarely

seem to consider the effect

of their actions.

One human meal may

be many days of

sustenance

food for families

of many small beings

who make these spaces

home.

 

 

 

#99 The World Shifted In a Day

The World Shifted in a Day.

Pandemic news traveled
spreading fear
fast as moving air
fear seeping under doorways
spread by keypads and networks
finding ways
into consciousness

Virus droplets
growing in bodies
in close spaces
on shared objects
everything suspect

Days weeks months
isolation separation
no hugs no family.
flat screen faces
replacing whole bodies
learning to make do

Warming spring
closed public spaces
beaches parks trails
denied
old and young
disabled or strong
two legged
four logged
stacked inside
desperate for light and air
movement
solace
all denied

Magnetized energies
attracting unrelated
unresolved
hidden issues
pandemic pile-ons
growing behind
closed doors

So much pain
misunderstanding
hidden triggers
personal national global
discontent
wrongs needing righting
layers compounding
solutions
complex
unfathomable
desperately unintended
breaking free
into the awareness of everyone

This is not finished
the work
not done
until every
festering wound
opens to healing
yours
and everyone else’s

Don’t look for
returns
or endings
the point of
all this pain
is awareness
followed by
resolution
over and over again
until everyone
and everything
heals by
opening to
new beginnings.

 

 

# 98 Blonde Curls

Blonde Curls.

Blonde Curls bouncing in the sparkling sun, a young man walks towards the waves, his body encased in black neoprene, a multicolored long board carried in capable arms, and at his side a lovely young woman similarly clad carries a plain white board walks with just a tad less swagger of confidence although her face is beaming the joy of beach promise on an early June afternoon.

The Lilacs are a bit past peak with the Bridal Veil Spirea coming into full flower. The beach roses started to bloom a few days ago, Rosa Rugosa, apparently an invasive species which sweetens the air. Close your eyes and sniff. You will know it is June by only your senses–the air with just a bit of chill even at low tide, the wafts of rose perfume edged with brine. I’ve been feeling the rhythms of air and warmth each day: an early morning high tide without a north wind will be the warmest part of the day right at water’s edge. As the tide moves in the breeze shifts, the result being a quick drop in air temperature and a reach for outerwear.  The early June ocean measures in the 50’s and an onshore breeze moving across the water means extra layers. In town or just a few miles inland, the sun bakes cars and people. A hot day! But out by the water mid- afternoon is often chilly especially at high tide.

June is the promise month, the month partners choose to mark a new life beginning in celebrations with family and friends. June also brings the contrasts in air and water temperature that creates the “marine layer”, i.e., fog. The chill and gloom of it near to the ground while just above there is haze and above that sun and warmth a just cause for running errands or an excuse to drive into town to get hot for a bit so to as to alter perspective when you return to the cool grayness. No air conditioning needed. It is possible to go through an entire June day wrapped in fog swirls. Dark horizon trees fade and turn pale in the almost-gloom. When horn starts blowing, it’s intervals either comfort or get on your nerves. So many visitors love this briny mist, the images on paint or paper or screens carried with love back home perhaps to hang on walls as far away reminders of a particular early coastal summer’s beauty.

Visitors return more timidly this June. Some beach houses stand empty and waiting. The Governor’s visitor’s requirement of a 14 day quarantine is still in effect. Some pay heed, others defy, some pretend this place is the same as always even when it’s not. The locals askance views of out of state license plates speak volumes: there is fear in the air mingled with nature’s June-ness. What might lurk in cars headed north besides happy tourists and their dollars?

Don’t we all want to escape to the beach, to shiver in the cold water, and fill our shoes with gritty sand? What we most seek is happy oblivion, a break from unknowns, laughter and sharing, ice cream and hugs, wet towels and fried seafood. This June everything is tinged with worry. Only the beach dogs raise their tails in joy, chase their balls on hard sand, loving you and this, the ocean at the beginning of summer, filled with promise and hope.

#97  Size Matters

Size Matters.

A Great Black-backed Gull landed on the roof of a nearby house, checking out the surrounds for food scraps. A resident Herring Gull swooped in trying for territory protection. The Black-backed was not having any of that nonsense, in bird terms, shrugging off the Herring Gull clearly implying “Are you kidding me?”

Awhile back, I’d been checking out a good birding spot with a friend, a place where the tide comes in (and out) as a river flow into the mouth of a large marsh. A Herring Gull was strutting the beach with a clamshell lunch in its beak. A Black-backed landed nearby and proceeded to walk deliberately toward the Herring Gull who clearly showed signs that he/she knew that they were not going to get to eat that lunch. When the Black-backed got sufficiently close the Herring Gull simply dropped the clam on the sand and flew off. Size matters.

Great Black-back Gull: Larus Marius

Length: 2.1 – 2.6 ft. (Adult); Wingspan: 4.9 – 5.6 ft. (Adult); Mass: Male: 4 lbs (Adult, North Atlantic population), Male: 4 lbs, Female: 3.3 lbs

 

American Herring Gull: Larus Argentatus Smithsonianus  

Length: Male: 2 – 2.2 ft. (Adult), Female: 1.8 – 2 ft. (Adult); Wingspan: 4.1 – 5.1 ft. (Adult); Mass: Male: 2.3 – 3.4 lbs (Adult), Female: 1.6 – 2.4 lbs (Adult)

Great Black-back Gulls: “Unlike most other Larus gulls, they are highly predatory and frequently hunt and kill any prey smaller than themselves, behaving more like a raptor than a typical larid gull. Lacking the razor-sharp talons and curved, tearing beak of a raptor, the great black-backed gull relies on aggression, physical strength and endurance when hunting. They can be nasty, albeit beautiful, birds.”

From: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_black-backed_gull

According to family lore I am a throwback to my paternal Great Grandmother, a tiny 4’10” woman who arrived as an orphan on this continent along with her younger sister in one of the earliest waves of a forced emigration movement from England into Canada now labelled as the “British Home Children”. From 1869 until the 1940’s the descendents of  these neglected-by-history children now make up ten percent of the current Canadian population. It’s a long and mostly sordid story, the gist of which in my family’s case was to keep silent about Elizabeth Chew Hesseltine’s past. Her importance to me growing up was that I was the only short one in a family not particularly tall (but hardly runts). My shortness was attributed to my carrying her genes although in the late 1940’2 and early 50’s that could not have been the reference. I have always been aware that tall people, especially exceptionally tall women, seemed to rise to prominence where we shorties struggled for our existence. Heightists! Size matters.

There are fairly numerous references to the claim that the tallest Presidential candidate always wins. If we ever get to elect a woman as President will this stay true?

According to random Google searches men are usually regarded as “short” if they come in at less than 5’10”. What height is considered “tall” for a woman? Those Google results list 5’6” as an ideal height for a woman in the U.S. (5’11” for a man). My observation has been that thin ranks of successful top-of-the-heap corporate or institutionally prominent women are often near the 6’ mark. From my 5′ tall perspective, this is a “truth” I’ve been noticing for over seventy years. (I am conveniently ignoring the physical stature of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a giant among women.)

I used to think that those who exceeded considerable height could be kind, that they never had to resort to bullying behaviors used by those of lesser stature, that their size alone dictated they did not have to resort to tactics of the very short,  know: that “gentle giant” thing.  That thought lasted until a 6’5” wife beater was outed in my small town. And now there are lots of political examples (and no, we won’t name names).

There are lots of size issues in the Animal Kingdom and bird species obviously have different adaptations where size may not be the critical issue but I doubt that would be a consolation for that stymied Herring Gull I watched this afternoon. I stay rooted: size matters. Or maybe, with nods to the Justice, that should be “Attitude”.

Photo Note: Herring Gull at Two Lights

#96 Seeing Is Believing?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Seeing is believing?

Researchers inform us that birds can see and differentiate color in ranges not visible to the human eye. Humans cannot imagine what it would be to have the precise vision of a hunting raptor flying high above or what it would be like to have unaided infrared vision. Researchers tell us a dog’s sense of smell is 10,000 to 100,000 times greater than that of a human. How can we possibly make sense out of such information?

I watched a brief clip on social media of a two people coming together in a hug using a homemade device made from a clear shower curtain with two sets of plastic arm protectors so each could stay safe from virus transmission. An irate viewer commented on the ridiculousness of this saying she “would not live with such fear any longer”. I didn’t stick around to read the comments to her comment but I thought that in a way she made a valid observation; fear is permeating everything. But we know, don’t we, how the science of virology works and repudiating fear is not part of this knowledge. We can throw up our hands, go to church or to a beach or a bar and mingle freely with others and, later, others may read headlines on the numbers of us who have become infected and who have died as a result of our actions. Our conceptualization of reality is tricky business.

What is it about our own particular version of reality? How do we know what we know? Much comes from out of our learned experience yet we often don’t have a clue about the realities of even loved ones closest to us. What did we  learn and retain from our education?  If only it was as simple as those who spent the longest time in institutions of learning and wracked up the most letters they could add after their name insures that they  always get to be at the top of the heap. Turns out that’s not quite right. There are so many different ways of knowing. Aren’t there?

Sitting in the midst of the time-out pandemic it seems like the perfect time to let such thoughts whirl in our minds. We have been watching daily media showing what divides us politically as we move farther and farther apart in our disbelief of the other side’s unwillingness to see obvious truth. Is this not one of the deepest mysteries of human kind?

In the protestations of that irate woman’s negative reaction to a backyard invention, the shower curtain virus protector, I heard a truth. Reading science-based media reports about how this particular virus spreads and the various ways it has inhabited human bodies, I hear truth. Our daily lives are permeated with fear and the threat to our continued survival requires us to abide by rules that make sense to many of us that means following the rules of science. What is compelling is how we are each attempting to make sense of our world, our worlds, now turned upside down but with or without this virus this was always the case.

A vegan finds the killing of animals for food abhorrent. A gourmand finds the consumption of rarities a joy. A five year old may only eat rice or pasta plain with only a bit of butter or with nothing at all, for months on end. These are operational realities. How do we make distinctions which incorporate such disparities? What, when, where, how do disparities lead us to seeing variations of other realities as crossing the line into unacceptable madness?

Extraordinary to me is that our entire planet is enveloped simultaneously in a pandemic that challenges us like no other point in our experienced history. Can this be true?  When we cannot fathom the motivations and/or actions of someone who shares our living space then how can we possibly fathom the actions of someone, anyone, across the globe? And yet here we are seemingly all in the same boat at the same time. If you are trying to make sense of anything about this pandemic you are also asking the questions of what makes things real and what makes us human.

Note: Apologies for duplication of a photo used in a previous post. It was too perfect not to use for the topic at hand.

Here are a couple of links about known animal abilities:

https://www.everythingbirds.com/articles/birds-vision-different-from-ours/

https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/article/dogs-sense-of-smell/

# 95 New Thoughts on the Future of Aging

New Thoughts on the Future of Aging.

If you stop to sit and think about Retirement, if you dive right down deep into ponder, purging your mind of numbers and stereotypes, it might strike you that Retirement is a rather strange concept. The idea of a hard work lifetime coming to an abrupt end at a magic number (you choose but the government has considerable sway) is beyond odd. In my last paid working years I pushed long past realistic capacity, becoming increasingly exhausted in my non-paid-work hours, when I wasn’t actually sleeping. I went from work to home chores, to sleep, and back up the following day, repeating endlessly. All-chore weekends were the norm. When opportunity knocked I was retired in a month, moved two states up and over and starting anew. It was akin to throwing the baby out with the bath water.

In this time of crisis the pause button has been pushed. It’s time for a rethink. Being older now means virus vulnerability. Our ranks are thinning disproportionately. If local, national, or global resources become thin our presence takes on furthered meanings—ice floe or a still contributing member of society?

During and after a pandemic what do we have to offer? For the past two years I’ve been working on Eldering and Building Community, giving me new purpose. In lifelong learning classes dynamic, talented, intelligent men and women were in states of new beginnings at a time I had thought this part of our lives was all about endings. Instead, we had landed on “generative” but where were the opportunities to apply what we had to offer? Our graying heads were talking among ourselves and it was illuminating and, perhaps, just a tad stagnant, although a lot of fun.

The ground has shifted. For the lean times ahead, in what ways can we be most useful? Already apparent are divisive signs where the aged are seen as takers not givers, users of resources rather than resources ourselves. If our backs are not strong enough for heavy pulling what then do we have to offer?

Don’t count on a moral high ground but don’t discount historical perspective. Divisions based on age and body soundness are not what will work for us now so we’d best be stepping up and using what we’ve learned in newly expansive ways. There is work to be done and many ways to do it. Think in the “Crisis=Opportunity” mode. Ditch the never-really-worked-anyway Retirement model. Transitioning, morphing, adapting have always been sound. Staying malleable, finding purpose, take what you know forward and on to new ground. Continue learning. Everyone has something to contribute. Consider yourself repurposed. 

#94 Corvidae


Corvidae.

From Wikipedia:

Corvidae is a cosmopolitan family of oscine passerine birds that contains the crowsravensrooksjackdawsjaysmagpiestreepieschoughs, and nutcrackers. In common English, they are known as the crow family, or, more technically, corvids    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corvidae  

Pity the crows and the ravens. Their biological family name is tainted forever. You perhaps saw the photos circulating of empty beer shelves in stores with the exception of piles of Corona brand beer left untouched? Spell checkers of the future are going to autocorrect “Corvid” to “covid”.

Whether ignorance or laziness or what other motive I’ve failed to understand, the vast majority of human consumption of media seems incapable of making finite distinctions in words or spelling. Remember the pronounced and emphasized use of “Barak Hussein Obama” by his political opponents? Saddam Hussein. King Hussein of Jordan. Labeling lumps are done purposefully by those who understand how to exploit the masses. Am I being political? I don’t believe so. I am a lover of words. I love puns and pine (at least for this one attribute) for the punners I once knew, now no longer in my life. I am a logophile or a logomaniac if you prefer and I am befuddled each time I witness word deception for political (or other) gains.

Back to the crows and the ravens, maligned members of the “Winged Nation”,  the term I recently heard from a woman (Sherri Mitchell*) from the Penobscot peoples on a Zoom replay. I am stunned by the beauty of this concept. I do not wish to be guilty of cultural appropriation but could we please, please adopt this way of seeing this wondrous part of the animal kingdom? I’ve written before about these sleek (well, crows anyway) black beings of great intelligence. I regularly watch a family who shares, maybe reluctantly, the outdoor space where I reside. I feed them peanuts in the shell in the winter. I think they recognize me although they still keep their distance as they must and should. They are wild beings and my motivations and behavior as a human are to be carefully watched. I am, by association, dangerous to their survival despite the offering of peanuts.

I am only the most casual of observers. Bernd Heinrich* is a scientist who has been studying and writing about Corvids, particularly Ravens, for quite some time. I got to hear him in person at a talk he gave at my local library. If you also love the crows and the ravens check out his books. Any glimpse we can expand on such a magnificent family of birds will enlighten.

____________________________________________________________
*Sherri L. Mitchell - Weh'na Ha'mu Kwasset  is a Native American 
lawyer, author, teacher and activist from Maine. 
Mitchell is the author of Sacred Instructions; Indigenous Wisdom 
for Living Spirit-Based Change. 
humanity.https://sacredinstructions.life/about/

See Also: Embracing the Journey - Facing Yourself    
https://us02web.zoom.us/rec/play/75wsJL-vqW43HNyc4gSDCvF8W9XrKv2s0ykeqPMFzR7mAnkCMwCgMOASMOJVon_D8Xv3QhbhHQTWZ4g2?continueMode=true

*Bernd HeinrichRavens In Winter. NY: Summit Books, 1989.
Mind of the Raven: Investigations and Adventures with Wolf-birds.
NY: Ecco, 2002.

 

#93 Sixty / 60

Sixty / 60.

I’ve come to learn by observation that sixty degrees is the magic temperature that signals summer in Maine. When the thermometer reaches sixty degrees windows fly open and it’s off to the beach. [When the beaches are open that is.]

Temperatures approaching sixty, meaning high forties and middling fifties, gets everyone outside. Walking, running, kayaking, hiking, biking, and bird watching are full throttle. Those with convertibles drive with the tops down.

When winter temperatures approach thirty two degrees or above, that is when shorts are worn, particularly among males. They are often paired with T shirts, maybe long sleeved ones when it is still in the thirties as the short sleeves come out at fifty (maybe at forty seven). Cotton hoodies are the winter coat of choice for both males and females.

I write this in continuous amazement. I grew up on the Canadian border and later lived a good chunk of my life in the NorthEast Kingdom of Vermont with decent altitude, enough to routinely experience minus twenty degree temperatures anytime between December through February. There were occasional bouts of minus thirties in the Vermont years. I don’t remember, in all that time and in all those years, shorts as winter apparel. People back then, and in those particular geographies, certainly made good use of the out of doors with skiing, skating, and ice fishing as fervent cold weather pastimes but they were dressed in parkas, hats, wool socks, and warm pants. It’s true that many, particularly teenagers, wore sneakers year round and if they owned boots they didn’t appear unless blizzard conditions were present and maybe not even then.

Sometimes I question if it is the temperatures that trigger “Maine Summer” behavior. Is the calendar the real instigator? March is early spring, April full spring, and May the beginning of summer. Are the wardrobe choices driven by the calendar month and not by actual weather conditions or temperatures?

I have run into a few natives who actually say they don’t like cold and they don’t like snow. In such cases I think their default for living so far North is that vacationers primarily stay away during the coldest times (at the coast but not in the mountains) which suits those who want the place to themselves. Is tolerating cold the trade-off for having a lot of personal outdoor space?

I don’t suppose there is any geography on earth that has decently warm, not- too-hot temperatures, and few people. We pick our spots and make do as best we can.

# 92 Fear

Fear.

I caught my foot on a looped wire attached to the garage. It entangled my right foot so that my attempt at rebalancing failed. I went down. Hard. On tarmac. My yelling was as much a release as anything else. I was scared. Later, I realized that a fear of falling had been present in me for sometime. We all have one, a fear we are carrying that lies just below our waking consciousness and, like the shadow on the wall, this fear may be a magnification of something much smaller, which confronted, through experience or circumstance turns out to be quite different than we thought. Exposing the fear enlightens us, allows us to get to what we need to know.

Fear is a palatable part of daily existence in the time of this global pandemic. I am thinking about the zillions of ways it must be a working present in each of our lives. It might just be Step One in our healing—our awakening—process. 

After finally being righted (needing help to do this) shortly after the fall I felt the words “good will come of this” in my head. Years and years ago I recognized that falling is a healthy thing to do; it’s an indicator of our flexibility as landing from a fall shakes out what we need to loosen. Children fall frequently, popping back up like newly set bowling pins but as we get older our various rigidities begin to worm their way into our thoughts and into our bodies. I thought way back then I realized the secret was to continue to fall which would remind me to stay as flexible as possible,  but as serious aging moved in I stiffened with arthritis and fear became a part of me without my recognition. 

Our deepest fears are OUR deepest fears for good reasons. Mine are not yours and vice versa. In circumstances where we tap into the experience we get the gift of knowing, opening ourselves in needed ways. If this is so for our individual lives what then does it mean for our global humanity as we face the unknowns of a virus? What is the process of collective fear working its way out into awareness on this global level? 

Is it not a privilege to be present and part of what is being released? We are in a time of opportunity for learning, a time for being flexible rather than rigid, each one of us throughout the world, all of us at the same time.

#91 Dualities

Dualties.

The Gulls gather daily on the rooftop of the restaurant next door and also atop the chimney of the house where I live. They have come back to their feeding ground in the beginning of the season of french fries and fried seafood. They circle then squawk loudly. Where are the hoards of people carrying the red trays out to sit on the picnic tables overlooking the ocean? Why is the parking lot empty? Damnit, it’s time for their favorite seasonal foods and they are impatiently waiting.

Watching the Gulls I think of how so many of us are struggling with this changing world. We are not what we were nor what we will become. We are in the unknown-unknowing time with no idea how long we will occupy this limbo state. We, too, want our french fries or their equivalency in our lives. We want the sun and the summer’s warmth and all that comes with it. We long to be carefree, relaxed, engaged in the joys that summer represents. Instead we circle like the Gulls knowing that something is up but not exactly sure just what that means.

The days feel like a series of roller coaster rides. It is lovely to have time to think and to be quiet. On the other hand not being able to be together face-to-face is actually painful on physical and mental levels. The logistics of getting basic supplies are daunting and even more so for those who are compromised by health or age or circumstance. We battle moments of anxiety and darkness. And yet….

We can both grieve what we have lost at the same time we can believe in what will come.

We will not go back to normal. Normal never was. Our pre-corona existence was not normal other than we normalized greed, inequity, exhaustion, depletion, extraction, disconnection, confusion, rage, hoarding, hate and lack. We should not long to return, my friends. We are being given the opportunity to stitch a new garment. One that fits all of humanity and nature.

Brene Brown, author.

I believe my “something is coming” feelings started in my late twenties. We moved “back to the land” and our family became as self-sufficient as was possible at that time: woodpiles and four wood stoves to keep us warm, chickens, huge gardens, one freezer chocked full with meat and the other with vegetables and berries, canning jars on cellar shelves filled with peaches, pears, and applesauce and green beans and tomatoes. There were old wood bins with potatoes and carrots.  On the floor of an unused upstairs bedroom were varieties of squashes and the onions.  Put up or put by, the terms dependent on where you came from, it was hard work full of love and joy that brought a sense of fulfillment (and exhaustion). Most of us trickled away for varieties of reasons but at the dawn of a new century others began returning to those same thoughts and ideals. By then I was too old to return to that lifestyle and far beyond the means necessary to obtain–land, tools, a strong bodied partner– what is needed to live that way. But I still believe in this transition to a better world. I may not live to see it flourish but, unexpectedly, I am here at its beginning. The negative moments come when I look back. The positive moments are when I open to the possibilities of the future.

# 90 Second Thoughts on Animal Behavior

 

Second Thoughts on Animal Behavior.

I simplified. This winter those hard to clean squirrel-proof and tube feeders stayed tucked away in storage replaced by a single hanging platform and black oil sunflower seeds. My intent, to feed crows as well as the finches and sparrows,  was straightforward but the feeder I bought turned out to be too small for crows so every other day I’d toss leftover feeder seeds onto the concrete porch floor with some added handfuls of peanuts in the shell. This worked well but as spring approached a single gray squirrel showed up. One by one the squirrel gathered the peanuts from the porch then buried in them in separate holes dug in the lawn until all the peanuts were gone, then the squirrel would return to stuff itself with as many of the sunflower seeds as it could eat. When the crows showed up there was little food left and their favorite, the peanuts, were out there somewhere covered by dirt.  I was watching a parallel behavior to the panicked Trader Joe’s pandemic hoarders filling their carts with multiples of canned beans or peanut butter jars until the overflowing carts could barely be pushed and those who shopped later went empty handed.

In the midst of this long haul social isolation and sick of my own cooking, I tried local curbside takeout at a nearby eatery  but their usual homemade fries didn’t hold up in the paper container on the ride home. Waiting for a time of squirrel absence, the next day I tossed the fries on to the porch floor along side a pile of peanuts. I was testing those crows. Would they head straight for the protein or go for the junk food? You know the result. Every last fry disappeared down crow gullets before one protein peanut was consumed.

Watching the birds has provided solace during these troubled times, a relief though what I thought was animal behavior untouched by the overwhelming current circumstances of people. Such a relief thinking that nature would continue with Spring, unabated by troubling human conditions. How wrong I was; animal behavior is not “pure“ nor separate from our actions. And then the internet sprouted photos and videos from all over the globe showing animals filling in normally human occupied spaces: Japanese deer wandering the car-less streets. Mountain goats running around yards in Wales. Mountain Lions wandering freely through neighborhoods. Wild Turkeys showing up in Oakland.  It seems that nature will repair the planet if humans start behaving themselves.

https://www.boredpanda.com/animals-roam-streets-coronavirus-quarantine/utm_source=google&utm_medium=organic&utm_campaign=organic

And:

https://www.bbc.co.uk/newsround/51977924

# 89 Inner Strength

 

Inner Strength.

“Everyone is struggling with things we know nothing about.”*

“New loss triggers old lost.”*

For years now I have thought that one of the problems of the design and refinements of homo sapiens is that we cannot, like Dr. Spock of Star Trek, do a “Vulcan Mind Meld”. The fingers of the Vulcan were placed on the head of another being, allowing the Vulcan to join with the mind of the other allowing instantaneous understanding of the issues at hand. A related concept with origins I did not know until I looked it up, came from a poem by Mary T. Lathrap in 1895 entitled “Judge Softly” in which her readers were admonished to  “Remember to walk a mile in his moccasins”.

Without these abilities, in our best moments, we work our way to compassion, but beyond (and including) compassion is experiential knowledge, that “mile in the moccasins” thing. I remember thinking that I understood the grief born by friends when they lost loved ones but only when such loss hit my life did I understand how little I had actually known as I was trying to express caring and solidarity to those dear friends. Experiencing the searing pain of loss I wanted to contact each and every one of those whom I had wronged through the gaps in my previous understanding and I wanted to beg those friends for forgiveness and to tell them I finally “got it”. Too little. Too late.

Yet there is a flip side to this, almost a contradiction, when we ignorantly err trying to make sense of the lives of others through our own experience which is actually not theirs but ours. We think we know. We don’t.  And yet there are some who are able to use their hard earned knowledge to make a real difference, such as  those who become counsellors or sponsors in addiction recovery programs. These are the people who have walked that mile in the foot wear of others.

Among our friends, family, and community there are those who even in the darkest of personal times present a brave or noble face to others, to “suck it up” and just keep going. Were we taught that no one wants to hear such troubles? Was there an instruction manual that told us to hide what we were going through?  I have come to feel that such masking is detrimental beyond the obvious. Such masking has allowed our culture to brush aside the awareness and the honesty of mental health issues that arise in the lives of most all of us at some point in our lifetimes. We, as individuals, and we, as members of our culture, are steeped to steer away from such sharing, to hide the honesty of our humanness and our vulnerability. How recently it was that provisions for mental health began being required of health care insurance plans yet still there are limitations placed on such coverage which is a critically important piece that is still getting lost in all the clamor of “health care for all”?

Festering wounds are healed by light and air. This is true for both physical and mental healing. If you think yourself beyond such “weakness” you have yet to experience your own particular version of deep human trauma or, even worse, you may have stuffed your own pain and sorrow and stayed silent thinking that was what was required. In communicating with others I am learning that the most profound moments of meaning come from the “slip” into divulging what lies hidden (mostly only to ourselves). So many kinds of trauma and grief lie within our psyches wanting light and air, compassion and understanding. Owning our feelings and sharing them can be a breakthrough moment for everyone involved, strangers and friends alike.

Examples of the cover-up of mental health issues can be found daily by simply turning on your radio, TV, or by reading or viewing internet postings. Incapacitated leaders, celebrities, talking heads, pundits abound yet everyone seems to be in the “Emperor’s New Clothes” mode, hovering and praising while ignoring blatant realities. To call this out our honesty has to be motivated by compassion for others and for ourselves, and those who have walked in the shoes of others are those who could lead us to understanding. Pointing fingers and calling names does not lead to healing. There are so many ways for our personal pain, sorrow, or grief to come forth and the strengths they bring can begin to heal our world.

 

Notes and References:

Image note: I have written before of my admiration of the survival skills of Gulls and I look to them as examples of unrecognized strengths.

*These words came from a brief interview with David Kessler (author of “On Grief and Grieving with Elisabeth Kubler Ross) on the NPR program On Point on March 31, 2020.

 

MindMeld

Spock performing a Vulcan mind meld.

The Vulcan mind meld (or mind touch) was a telepathic technique employed exclusively by Vulcans in which the minds of two individuals become a single entity. In the Vulcan language, it was known as taroon-ifla. (TOSepisode: “Dagger of the Mind“, Last Unicorn RPGmoduleThe Way of Kolinahr: The Vulcans)

https://memory-beta.fandom.com/wiki/Mind_meld

“Walk a Mile in His Moccasins” link: https://jamesmilson.com/about-the-blog/judge-softly-or-walk-a-mile-in-his-moccasins-by-mary-t-lathrap/

 

# 88 Photo Essay: Fruits and Veggies

Fruits and Veggies.

March and April are the months we start craving summer’s fruits and vegetables. Our bodies have been living on grocery store produce, fresh or frozen, all winter, which lack full spectrum vital vitamins and minerals because of long storage, transportation, and supply issues. Oh for summer goodies fresh picked, juicy, sweet, tart, savory!  Summer to me means Farmer’s Markets and the Ferry Market in San Francisco, was and is a treasure trove of luscious. The photos below are from my deep archives (from 2007). Too bad we just can’t reach into the screen and take a bite or two. May they trigger happiness not woe.

 

# 88 Sound

Sound.

The nights are never truly silent. Even during the most quiet time, when the tide is furthest out and the winds are calm, there is still the constant backdrop of waves colliding with rock. When the fog horn is not sounding, that is as silent as it gets. I would have thought that this sound would fade from constant awareness into backdrop as does a heartbeat or the sound of breath, but that’s not the case. 

These days of early spring are not silent either as the songbirds sing for mates and territory. But it is the absence of other sounds that holds my attention and gives awareness that not all is right in the world. 

The sound of pickup trucks in the driveway, saying soon the nearby restaurant will open for the season, is absent. The sounds of the school bus picking-up or letting-off neighborhood kids is absent as well as the occasional sounds coming from the closest yard when the boys are out there together letting off indoor steam. The sound of planes  in landing lineups overhead, preparing for delivery of their passengers is (nearly) absent. The diesel engine noise of lobster boats pulling traps is also nearly absent. The hearing evidence of human activity has faded to a whisper.

The sound of my own voice is also mostly absent. There are a few phone calls now and then, but not daily. Mostly there is quiet keying on the laptop or the phone, the silent greeting of words to check in with others and to pass along funny internet stuff. I am noticing we seem to fade in and out with one another, wanting to stay in contact yet there are days we seem to collectively withdraw just a little. 

The radio, often a prime source of sound, is only on occasionally; the news is grim and indeterminate, an anathema to the calm and peace possible when focus stays on light and clouds and water, when watching the Eiders transition from the great flock down to pairs as it’s unfolding day by day. There is spring work to be done, a new brood to make and raise and, although I suspect those things are far from silent, the duck sounds do not make it as far as the house. 

I feel a very particular kind of envy watching the birds going about their lives oblivious to our unfathomable human existence. I think of the times human actions have impacted theirs in devastating ways, but now there is only watching their movements while taking solace that the season is changing and (at least some) aspects of the world are still normal.