#141 Bird Report

Bird Report.

Spring is a man agonizingly slow process in Coastal Maine. It’s a matter of being by a body of water where size really matters. The reasonably large lake on whose shore I spent my childhood had a climate moderation effect but that body pales in comparison to the Atlantic Ocean. The slow spring rollout that means days of biting wind and low temperatures mean I do drive-bys along the nearest marshes looking and listening for early arrivals. Things had been quiet with occasional sightings of Mallard ducks and Canada Geese but this week there was a glorious reward as a lone Great Egret stood fishing in that cold marsh water, ice still edging the shady spots, the marsh grasses still dead and brown, at least on the surface. I rolled down my window and shouted “Welcome Back” as an excited, obnoxious, human might when spotting this beloved creature.. In the months when it is possible I always drive the long way round when I’m running errands to take in as much marsh peeping as I can. It’s the egrets, the Greats and the Snowys, that my eyes seek wanting to soak in the grace and beauty of their being.

The week provided another bird sighting treat when I spotted a Killdeer in a bare dirt field. I’d not seen a Killdeer since I lived in northern Vermont so many years ago. I loved watching their fakey broken wing ruse used to divert any potential threat away from their ground nests. Looking like it’s a shore bird, instead you mostly find it in unplowed fields in early spring. They nest in precarious places as farmers and gardeners begin Turing over soil to begin planting. Be careful dear Killdeer.

I also heard the twrrr of newly arrived Red Wings Blackbirds coming from the marsh as I approached with car windows open. Alas, I didn’t get sight of them and had only the joy of their song, a harbinger of spring arrival to so many who live their bright wing flashes.

Today, while retrieving a package delivered to the porch, I startled aTom and his eleven hens who were foraging for leftover bird seed near the porch. My presence startled them and they began a slow retreat down into the parking lot. How huge and magnificent they are! Just a while later I glanced up to see that these turkeys had migrated to the ocean side lawn, seemingly finding some kind of food in the meager grass that tries to grow in the spot where salt spray often soaks the ground that then gets baked by a relenting sun. The turkeys didn’t seem to mind my presence as I was behind window glass. They seemed aware yet not bothered by how physically close to them I was. The Tom went in and out of full display for his eleven hens and I was able to clearly see the fan and side feathers in detail.

A day later a Common Flicker was searching the same ground looking deceptively small and nondescript compared to it’s flashing feathers in flight, yellow gold undersides with jaunty black feather patches and that marvelous strip of red.

This must be a time of hunger for the early arrivals as well as for the year rounders as they forage before things have truly thawed or sprouted anew. I feed the little birds in the cold months and it is always challenging trying to decide when the feeders come down for the summer. It seems it should be when the new hatchlings are learning to find food for themselves. I love to cooperate, to see if I can help them get through winter safely, but never wanting to feed them so much as to keep them from their natural food sources. There are arguments about feeding any wildlife including the songbirds. Surely there is “an answer” but I’m not sure I have it. I’d not planned on feeding them this winter at all until the pandemic made me critically aware of the precariousness of survival of all living things. I knew I needed the daily joy of watching the little birds visiting the porch, bright and cheery creatures, visitors during a lonely and isolated time. Feeling useful in this small way helped getting through the months of bleak and cold.

If I’m not yet able to swoon over glorious red tulips nor bask in the yellow joy of Forsythia, I can take comfort in the return of the Egrets which will have to hold me until full blown colors sprout everywhere and the sun’s warmth can again directly warm bare skin.

I wonder what sun feels like on a feathered body.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

#140 Unfinished

Unfinished.

Back to the subject of dreams. Not even halfway through the night I’ve been brought sharply to an awakened state as three separate dreams have come right to the make or break point then whoosh I was out of there and awake, nearly panting at the closeness of resolve but instead left hanging and wondering. I’ve not been one much interested in dream interpretation via external sources preferring to believe in individual symbolism rather than in overreaching archetypes. In this case it’s the pattern of dreaming itself that has left me questioning. Well, that and a sense of doom or fear facing which, apparently, I’m not (yet?) ready to do.

Dreams are such curious manifestations. While many researchers work on poking at the truth of them–their origins and purpose–most of us remember little upon waking up, our separate selves operate mostly in realms of night or day, waking consciousness or boundless sleep. My sense of it is we could not survive without dreams, that within them lies guidance and the paths that our lives will take, but so much is not remembered. That’s not proof however that dreaming isn’t critical but only that we are very far from understanding the most basic mechanisms of our own being.

Now that I’m here it strikes me that I rarely understand most of where and how my life has unfolded. I came into these later years striving for amalgamation, looking to a time of contemplation where the seemingly separate parts of my lifetime could be pulled together into some kind of (at least) relational story. I wanted to make a whole after so many seemingly separate parts. Just as with tonight’s dreams, that work lies unfinished. Does that suggest that it takes the availability of a more vast perspective than what is available to most of us in our earthy form? Tonight I have only questions and no answers. Maybe a return to sleep will lead to yet more remembered answers.

Later Addition:

Morning light brought slivers of more dream memory, of returning to a place of departure (geographic or mindset) where leaving this life was joyous rather than gloomy, where a soul experienced a sparkle upon approaching this task. The time for departure had come and it was embraced. It seems an affront to even entertain such an idea but there it was with laughter and a sense of lightness and delight. A rested human body perhaps enabled such thoughts. Unfinished, replaced by simply unknown.

#139 Unholy

Unholy.

Of all the months the one which seems obviously malicious might be October. It is, after all, the time of witches and Samhain (Halloween). However October is often lovely, maybe giving a hint of cold or flurries, but often balmy (and that “witch” stuff has never been what it seemed). The real unholy month is March when even the thought of Spring entices us into welcoming the month forgetting every single time that March often brings the fiercest storms, the ones that truly test your mettle when you are least wanting to be tested.

Last night the NorthWest wind blew without mercy, passing through the walls of the house as if they were non-existent barriers to the icy cold, sixteen degrees and dropping as I tucked under the covers. Anything exposed under that too faint protection tightened and stiffened, joints of fingers and neck knotting while sleep tried to persist but only on faint and shallow levels. The wind continues today even as the sun shines brightly, all it’s warmth shredded under the onslaught.

It’s hard to write anything at this time without referencing the pandemic, even if that is the last place I want to go, but this year in particular our need for warmth has grown out of proportion given that warmth is how we will be able to break our isolation and to be with friends and family. This process is being powerfully fueled with the parallel availability of vaccinations. Nearly everyone I know has had one shot and is waiting for the second, or is through both and now starting to think of re-entry into a world abandoned in a flash of another March. Despite vaccinations we still need mild days to sit with sun on bare skin, to breathe freely moving air, to move around outdoors without layers and layers of clothing, to let our bodies and psyches come back into allowing flow.

I figured that March this year was going to be hard but that concept pales in the face of a wind like sharp steel. There is no getting to be warm today, inside or out. Every gust that tears at the house tears at my psyche. We are nearly past the halfway mark and we know that each year snow falls on the daffodils of April. How will we summon our strength after a year of unknowns, a year of anxiety and fear of something we cannot see that devastates lives, that turns familiar faces into eyes above coverings so that we don’t recognize old faces and will never be able to recall new ones we’ve met during this time?

In lower latitudes March can try the spirit with its capricious variations of weather. This far north, sitting beside the frigid waters of the Atlantic, it will still be months before there is any softness in the air. While our bodies are working hard responding to vaccinations, building still needed immunities, our spirits need a break, an infusion of gentleness and peace. March is just not going to let up and hand us an easier time of it. Here’s where mettle counts, the breaking point. Can you hang on long enough while all those tensions from months of months of plodding through unknowns has tightened your muscles into knots, the cold aiding the process so efficiently?

The prayer is to get through: this hour, this day, this month, this time. If only we can hang on for that first soft evening of total letting go, body melts into ease which has been forgotten, when windows can be thrown open and fresh air can clean out stale house corners. How I hope I can soon laugh off today’s dire thoughts and words, dismiss them because color and warmth have returned, this time meaning more than they ever have before.

#138 What Is Asked of Us

What Is Asked of Us?

We know that other generations in past times and places in the history of our world have endured pandemics. We may know that these periods in history took massive tolls on human lives, as a quarter, or a third, or perhaps up to ninety percent of populations in specific places and times perished. The awareness of this history was primarily the territory of historians or epidemiologists; the rest of us did not feel it was necessary to pay attention. In this last year we have  stayed focused at tasks at hand. As we plow on our sense is that we are still facing much that still is speculation. This year of worldwide struggle, has left many of us feeling exhausted, despite our hopes the vaccines may be enough to give us a sense of safety that’s been absent and that loved ones, friends and family alike, may turn once again into sources of solace and strength.

These have been the “piling-on” times. Our political divisions have been entwined with the virus, some directly hardwired in terms of public behaviors such as masking as well as administrative incompetence on local, regional, and national levels, while much is obscured still waiting until “later” when we have the perspective of distance for understanding. We’ve been asked to hunker down and persevere. We are struggling to still do so. Our patience and fortitude growing slim.

Climatic changes are becoming more obvious via extremes in whacko weather situations that are, again, entwined with politically expedient and shortsighted determiners. We first saw this during Hurricane Katrina and now incompetence and corruption become exposed once again on all of our various screens in our living spaces or wherever we happened to be. Extremes of fire, of cold and heat, of drought and flood, are imploding place to place event after event. We want to continue with what we knew as normal and want that back despite all evidence that normal was only and ever a tiny, very particular, window of existence. What made us feel we were ever okay? What led us to hold onto beliefs that were being countered by information from science sources, those eyes and ears and voices of those who have been watching and seeing the encroaching damage happening everywhere on the globe?

We now know we are living in topsy-turvy times, where all futures are unknown and absolutely nothing can be taken for granted. Are we prepared? The young feel betrayed by the generations before them who did not act on the science of what was revealed. The old just wanted to keep doing as they had always done. Those in the middle, who were well off “enough” just wanted to keep going with their comfortable lives. We have collectively and individually been stopped in our tracks. Inequalities and injustices, now stand together as overwhelming forces demanding attention affecting all life on our planet.

Did we know we’d come here at this time to be part of this struggle? Did we get caught in events not of our own making and are we resentful that these “interruptions” have permanently shown up in our lives? Do we want to engage fully to find solutions? Do we want to cling to a feeling of being victimized because the life we loved was hijacked? What’s left of this pandemic time-out may be what we need to search for and find new ground for ourselves and those we love. The only certainty is we cannot go back which may be the reason there has been so much grieving during this time.

What is asked of us and what do we ask of ourselves? The answers we find will make a very real difference in what comes out of this time.

#137 Fast Air

Fast air.

I woke to intense sunlight brightly detailing the carnations I’d bought for myself now sitting on my bureau. Yesterday’s snow and rain had blown the quickly moving storm out to the far open sea leaving behind a clear bright sky with that very welcome intense morning light.

This is a thought dream. It’s not about the science of weather which I too lightly understand, It is about the emotional experience of it of weather, of storms and systems that move along the coast daily.  I find myself wondering if storms systems move more freely once over water unlike those memories I have of weather systems hanging on for days over the high hills or valleys in my geographically plunked pasts. What I experience now on an overcast day is far easier to tolerate if there is reasonable certainty the day after will bring back the cheer and warmth of the sun.

If I truly grasped meteorology no doubt I’d understand the movement of fast and slow air in more precise and scientific ways. I would not be relying on my observations and guesses but then again, there is comfort in believing the fairy tale versions of things such as the belief that light follows dark in predictable ways and that, when in the midst of oppressive clouds of gloom or a raging wind, there is certainty in next day relief.

In a far Northeast winter the presence of sunlight is a game changer. Yesterday’s ice storm which coated trees in icy jackets becomes a magical morning fairyland of shimmer as the sun rises. Yesterday’s rain, frozen by overnight temperature dips means black ice will hide in the shadows, unsafe surfaces for cars and legs alike, but such shadows disappear as sun creeps into their recesses. Overnight heavy snows covers everything leaving us to marvel at the transformed landscape. Nature as artist can swirl snowdrifts into sharp peaks and valleys, using violent winds as brushes, creating impossibly beautiful sculptures in mundane places. 

Dark times, bad weather, and overcast gloom that moves quickly can be tolerated and brings, by the way of contrast, a particular kind of joy. Lingering, incessant stagnation (of weather and everything else) is a much harder condition, one that  challenges us to dig deeply into our psyches to get ourselves through.

So bring on fast air. Let’s rejoice in the movement made possible of air moving fast over water, unrestrained, unsnagged by peaks or valleys, flowing freely, as beacons for the way our spirits want to flow.


			

#136 Agency

Agency.

Awakening waking from a dream every once and awhile there is a glimpse of a higher sense of self behind the curtain  of my ever-so-flawed daily life. Getting to the level of sleep needed to make the higher self connection and then carrying back observations or knowledge into waking reality is what is important and needed but this task is the tricky part.

If you are  striving for “mindfulness” via meditation or yoga or any of the other currently popular practices designed to connect your mind with this higher sense of self, I applaud your diligence. Reaching for knowledge delivered from my higher self is a longing which has been present since my twenties, but I have a rebellious streak that chafes at doing what is recommended (sticking to that daily consistency of practice) especially when I perceive the practice to be trendy. I mean no offense to those of you disciplined in ways I am not. This confession is only a self-defense mechanism; I’ve always been attracted to swimming upstream or standing on the sidelines serving as an observer rather than a practitioner. My glimpses or intuitions come, but not out of disciplined practice, but arrive instead in an ad hoc kind of way.

Because I love words, I often am aware of new ways they are pronounced or used. Lately the word “agency”  has been popping up regularly in print, or on social and broadcast media. This “agency” is not the one describing a local agricultural organization or the name of a business where you go to purchase insurance or a governmental department on the chopping block. The new use as described in Wikipedia:

“…agency is defined as the capacity of individuals to act independently and to make their own free choices. By contrast, structure are those factors of influence (such as social class, religion, gender, ethnicity, ability, customs, etc.) that determine or limit an agent and their decisions.

My higher sense of self popping out from my dream cloud has “agency”. My daily, waking self seemingly floats in a steam of anything but. Do you feel a sense of agency filling your life? If I were to begin to meditate daily would this bring me a sense of agency ?. Do I have agency getting contactless grocery deliveries or pickups? What is the connection with this use of agency  in the midst of year one of a global pandemic when divisional politics have shredded our sense of common purpose? When we violently split over the legitimacy and legality of a presidential election? Timing is everything. This word’s new use is a clue.

I believe we want to think that we have agency in our lives whereas the truth is we float along in the stream that is our daily existence wanting to believe we have choices, that we are in “control”. It is my hope that agency  is my higher self, manifesting a sorely needed idea translated out of my dream state rather than out a sense of my deeply rooted cynicism which suggests the current use of the word comes at a time in which a sense of personal agency is far from reality. The challenge—the longing—is that agency  is a message from our collective higher selves, in hopes that we will absorb it into our daily consciousness at a time when we seem to have lost so much. This morphed use of the word may be a clue of where we need to be rather than where we currently are. That would be as close to agency as we could get.

#135 Living History

Living History.

A number of years ago I became drawn to the history of the UK during the World War II era. My attraction was not to the stories of war and heroism, or to battles, or to studying the actions of world leaders during that time. Instead, I wanted to know the stories of the ordinary, daily, lives of the people trying to make it through those wars years, 1939 to 1946 or a bit after. Long before a hint of a pandemic future, my interest in this period stayed strong and I, who have never stepped foot in the UK, got sucked in by the remarkable number of surprisingly good books and films that cover so many aspects of this time. My latest is a binge watch of a BBC docu-series first broadcast in 2012 called “Wartime Farm” in which an historian and two archaeologists filmed a year long re-creation of the Britain’s “other” war, the one concerned with keeping Hitler’s forces from using starvation as a weapon to overtake the UK as they had done in so many other European countries. Tractors, chickens, dairy cows, flax and wheat, making do, using everything at hand, and all aspects of life, including attitudes,  were “weaponized” to keep Great Britain out of German control. What a tale.

Is it ever possible to truly understand an historical period not of our own experience? More than one biopic has sent me scurrying to thick biographies as a check or challenge to what’s been shown by the life depicted on screen, but all such endeavors are found to be lacking, full of inaccuracies of one form or another. Questions always remain.

This day-to-day slow crawl of a worldwide pandemic is history in the making as are the parallel, ongoing, worldwide political upheavals. I am continually struck by how our individual experiences vary wildly even when we attempt to reassure one another that we are all “in this together”. Since the pandemic enfolded the experience of those with jobs (i.e., paychecks) could not equal those who have lost their livelihoods or their businesses. Those among us who have contracted the virus, or have loved ones who have become ill or who died, are in a different boat from those of us staying sharply isolated, afraid, and remaining physically safe but possibly losing our mental grip.

A question for all times: how do we see our own lives in historical context even as we are living through it?

I have talked (socially distanced via Zoom) with a variety of people who declare that they have not been all that affected by this pandemic, people who have in one way or another still traveled, still retained close family contact. I find myself wondering about optimism or the opposite, falling down into dark rabbit holes. And what about so many of us who are experiencing bits of both at the same time? Despite our perceived commonalities, a car ride through neighboring communities already gives evidence of sharp change—closed businesses, ubiquitous masking, “For Sale” signs popping up on homes and pasted on to darkened empty windows, the residents or owners or proprietors already gone. When we can again roam freely, we will be stunned by the changes to places we hold dear in our hearts? There will not be a return to “normal”, only an arrival at a new normal, one we create as we move along. Our constant flying blindly into the blank state of the unknown then somehow emerging and trying to piece together what happened is our history.

Recently I took a class on historical pandemics wanting a glimpse of what previous humans suffered in the various forms of past plagues of plagues and epidemics. What did they know and how they were affected? It appears that Black Death survivors in the 1300’s, without knowledge of “virus” made common sense observations which some used to stay isolated and alive. Yet during this Coronavirus pandemic segments of current humanity, those with access to all manner of understanding of disease process, chose to ignore science and rely on their own opinion of what was “real”. Some of them became ill or died, but not all, at least not yet. Did we humans make progress only to yet again fall back into superstition and ignorance?

The more I try for even a narrow glimpse of truth through peepholes into the past, the more I am humbled at the vastness of the task. I feel like an ant trying to understand the magnitude of galaxies. My personal current history is a slow crawl of one day blending into the next, of isolation filled with questions, of not one iota of progress as the clouds and sun come and go in rhythms I also do not thoroughly understand. On second thought, that ant may be be far better equipped for the struggle than I who remains baffled.

#134 My Roots Are Showing

My Roots Are Showing.

Recently it has dawned on me that I am a throwback to a much earlier time. I think I was unaware to the extent I was influenced by my early childhood connections to aunts and uncles from an era long since departed. As the years go past I feel these connections and recognize that they do not resemble anything in my current life.

The geography of Northern New York–above the Adirondacks–is a place where the earth flattens out as it steadily rolls from the mountain range’s high peaks region to the St. Lawrence River bordering Ontario. On a clear day you can see for miles and miles driving the back roads up there, the landscape rolling away from your eye, the silver thread of the shining river on the horizon far off in the distance. The town in which my parents grew up was the home of Almanzo Wilder, husband of Laura Ingalls Wilder, and the book she wrote of his early life called “Farmer Boy” is practically the only reference that anyone would connect to tiny Burke, NY.

I thought of this area as a place out of time, or at least a place that felt 30 or 40 years behind whatever year we were in. This place still has active evidence of family farms, a tiny  town far away from the tourist trade. The farms, dairy or cropped based (once mostly potatoes), were sold over the last decades to Amish families looking for affordable land to work and farm living their private lives in a place where they would be free to be with others who shared the same beliefs. I was long absent by the time these land exchanges were happening but perhaps the Amish were right in that the area was an easier fit than other possibilities.

What I remember from my childhood was a sense of shared values, of neighborly concerns and real help if that was what was needed. I was dimly aware that the price of such deeply rooted connection might be traces of intolerance to “other” which I first came to understand from road trips to visit my cousins just a bit north. The drive was through Native American [Mohawk/Akwesasne] “Reservation” land. I remember looking out of the backseat car window and seeing animated young, brown skinned men carrying lacrosse sticks. This was long before lacrosse had been adopted (culturally appropriated?) by New England’s private schools and eventually most of the high schools in northern latitudes. Lacrosse back then was the Native American sacred sport in a society where the struggles were centered on dirt poor poverty and maintaining their own language and identity while surrounded by deep prejudice from the culture that hemmed them in.

My memories of family center on my father, a storyteller by nature, who filled dinner table gatherings with of tales of working in the woods (those Adirondacks) and the characters he knew doing such work. My aunt’s husband, Karl Pond, build roads through those mountains when road building was not done by engineers, but by local talent. My Dad always said you could tell Karl had built a section of road because he knew how to build a curve which you could feel behind the wheel of your car. One summer by aunt joined him living in a shack in the woods spending her days gathering balsam needles for the Christmas present pillows she made. Mine was made of purple cloth and I kept it for years, the sweet, woodsy scent fading slowly over time.

I am wandering down memory lane now because I have begun to notice how out of step I am with current mores or values. Only though contrast have I come to realize how deeply I absorbed what I learned from sitting at those kitchen tables listening to their history and their stories. Now it is I who is out of step with the times, it I who longs for that particular kind of decency and caring. I do not intend to “whitewash” the memories as that term fits way too well describing other unpleasant aspects of those times which were very far from perfect.

I guess if you live long enough your memories begin to clash with the world that surrounds you which often becomes so alien. At what point do we begin to separate ourselves? In a Best Buy store a number of years ago I realized that I did not know what many of the consumer goods offered on their shelves actually did. As I considered myself reasonably tech savvy at the time it was a moment of real shock. Now I find separations daily. I feel old yet occasionally pleased that I can remember that long ago time, when I felt in tune with those around me, content in trusting that I belonged, trusting that my world made sense and that people in it were essentially decent and fair. My memories are bridge to nowhere as all connections to that time are lost.

Reflections: A History of Burke, NY:  https://burkeny.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/Reflections.pdf

Akwesasne:  St. Regis Mohawk Reservation https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St._Regis_Mohawk_Reservation

Traditional Lacrosse:  https://akwesasne.travel/traditional-lacrosse/

# 133 Speedy Moonrise and the Relativity of Temperature


Speedy Moonrise and the Reality of Temperature..

After a long trail walk in the winter woods on a beautiful winter’s day, my tired body was restless in the dark night. With weary bones and aching muscles prohibiting sleep, I prowled the house noticing the lights out on the water, pondering the mysteries of buoy lights, some constantly red, some with intermittent bluish flashes, no doubt signaling a clear message to ships in the vicinity that I, a total landlubber, could not read.

On one side of the house there were a few dim lights in the windows of neighboring houses perhaps indicators of sleepless tiny children or night owls preferring the silence and the calm of deep night while I, undetected in the dark, walked with bare feet on cold wooden floors trying to work out the restlessness of my tired legs. Then turning back to the ocean side windows, there suddenly appeared a huge, Sumo sized segment of brilliant orange just above the horizon. Moonrise at one a.m., the vivid illumination was a startlingly unexpected body in the black sky. A sight like that, when the night has, by it self altered reality, momentarily shifts the mind but all too soon it’s rapid upward progress changes it quickly from orange to yellow making a shining path to it on the water’s surface. My restless, exhausted body saw this as a totally unexpected gift, one that could have been so easily slept through as in most other nights.

Looking out on the crisp, clear black sky and the sacred, precious moonrise in the middle of the night also carried a deep chill, my bones feeling the cold in every corner of the house. Why can 62 degrees seem so warm if experienced on an unseasonable winter’s day, a day where a light jacket substitutes for the puffy down one worn the day or two before and after, yet that same 62 degrees on a February night in the quiet dark house feels frigid, the chill nearly unbearable. Such mysteries startle an aging, exhausted human just needing sleep.

The moon climbs steadily over the water offering no warmth but it’s light draws the eye and satisfies a weary soul.

 

# 132 The Dead of Winter

The Dead of Winter.

Mid-winter. The days begin to lengthen but there is still far too much darkness for those of us who crave sunlight. Behind us, the holidays are sufficiently past to have tucked away decorations and tossed out greenery but thoughts of spring blossoms are too far ahead to bring much comfort. It’s “getting through it” time.

In this pandemic year fear adds layers of meaning as the dead of winter becomes literal and we huddle in our houses trying to remain safe or we don’t and, in denial or defiance, we take our chances and spread those chances along to others. The world we knew has gone. What will emerge remains unknown.

Just last year the dead of winter was a time of tea and good books, a time of pleasant rest and contemplation, the perfect counter to summer’s frenzy. Now, long denied, we wearily pine for the solace found in the company of others, to be with friends and family sharing meals and swapping stories, in person not on screens. Not one of us remains untouched yet each of us remains, one way or another, untouched.

We need to nourish our bodies and our souls in this time of darkness and confusion but how do we do this locked away from each other, with resources and access in short supply?

There are no “right” answers. Within the  questions lie both the problems and their solutions. All require belief, hope, and hard work. While the pandemic is global it is also intensely personal. Others long before us separated and isolated trying to stay safe as disease worked its way through populations. Perhaps strangest of all is that we’ve learned so little from our historical past, finding ourselves in shock having blithely ignored that this has happened many times before.

There’s a cold snap coming with hints that a big storm may arrive after that. This is normal in the midway point of the season yet such news carries added dread. We will need to dig deeper hoping to find reservoirs of strength and patience to tide us through. It’s a tough time and yet ahead, after this testing and trouble, there may well be changes that bring us to a better, more just and joyful world.

The dead of winter is always followed by the rebirth of spring.

 

 

 

 

#131 Among Trees

Among trees.

This winter has brought walking in the woods as a balm for life cooped up inside. I doubt I would have ever ventured among trees without the presence of a friend who has an affinity for trees.

Years ago, I’d learned to sugar in northern Vermont. We’d start when the snow was deep, tapping trees and hanging buckets. Gathering sap was done the hard way, moving from tree to tree carrying heavy, sloshing pails then dumping the sap into the holding tank sitting atop the dray pulled by the tractor. When the sun’s warmth began to melt the snow on the south side of the trees it meant the lifeblood of the tree would begin flowing upward through the trunk but the freezing temperatures of the night would send the sap down back into the roots. The more miserable the weather, the longer this ebb and flow of cold to warm then cold again, the more the sap would run and then syrup could be drawn off in the sugar house. The only part of the operation I never learned was being the sugar maker, the boiler. Responsibility for staying awake throughout the night carefully monitoring the fuel supply and keeping an anticipatory eye on the large “pans” so they, and the sugar house, did not burn was a job only for experts.

Throughout the whole sugar season my joy came from being in the woods feeling the transition from winter into spring. Having started in hip deep snow, terrible to walk through, and ending up in shirt sleeves washing and stacking buckets as warmth began creeping in at the end of the season was brutal, satisfying, work. I doubt many still sugar this way as tubing, suction pumps or gravity feeds took the place of human bodies willing to swap hard labor for only the precious brown sweetness and the utter joy of collective labor that was so much a part of farming in all seasons. Now there are few hardscrabble family farms left and climate change with wild temperature swings makes maple sugaring precarious.

At that time of my life, the woods were also a playground when on skis, the cross-country propel-yourself kind. Being on wooded hillsides in February cutting our own trails there was often an unexpected warmth, the exertion of muscle under wind protected tree cover often felt like a balmy Vermont winter version of a beach day.

Now in old age as walking has become difficult, moving through the woods with the patience of a friend making it possible, I carefully place each step and I breathe. I move ever so slowly with senses open. The smell of the woods changes with the types of trees and their proximity to one another. Deeply green mosses surprise, the bright color such a contrast to the brown leaf litter underfoot. This year there has been the blessing of a snow drought causing angst for skiers and utter joy for those of us able to escape being stuck inside in this time of pandemic distancing. 

The privilege of being in winter woods brings indescribable joy. The seemingly endless configurations of downed trees, the striations of bark, the signs of beaver along a pond with left behind stumps looking like they were ground by giant pencil sharpeners and the large chipped holes in dead or dying trees made by woodpeckers looking for insect protein are sources of delight. The wonderfully fresh air filling nostrils shriveled by dry heated indoor substitutions for real air brings life to tired bones, hearts, and weary minds so anxious to be clear of the sound of incessantly droned media worries. 

“Come to me” sing the trees. Bring your troubles and deposit them at our base so we can carry them upward to light and air and freedom. 

 

# 130 Presence

Presence.

While on a Zoom class on a Blurday afternoon I found myself looking away from the screen and out the windows. The ocean was heaving, rising swells crashing on rocks, whomping like it had been doing since the night before. “It’s a presence”, I thought, “a living breathing presence”, but that is as far as I could get with metaphors.

The ocean is so close, yet it’s not a neighbor with an unpredictable temper prone to occasional bouts of drink and rage. It’s not a relative, or friend, or housemate and its moods cannot always be forecast by NOAA. The ocean is such a vast unfathomable there there. Yet it is constant motion, water as wildly unpredictable as its cohorts earth, fire, and air. Oceans, like other components of planet earth, like mountains, like vast forests, like endless prairie, remind those in proximity of our own puniness. We are not a drop in the bucket of such energy and this alone is a compelling reason to live on such edges. Vastness keeps one humble, keeps us within the lines of our own coloring book as we fill in each day’s spaces. 

Recently I have been thinking of how both great and small water is, endlessly responsive and never resistant, the slightest energy shift  of anything can cause variations of movement ranging from nearly placid to as close to unhinged fury as I’m ever going to experience unless I put myself in a boat on its surface. (Not likely. That I leave to braver souls.)

I started writing this blog in an attempt to use words and corresponding images to try to give a glimpse into what daily, year round proximity to the ocean felt like, to expand awareness of “ocean”. I was gifted the opportunity to live out my wildest dream with a front row seat yet four years into this experience and I have barely nudged my own comprehension. It is beyond addiction. It is like tethering oneself to an out of control force field. It is exhilarating but often exhausting, in winter especially. Sometimes after days of pounding my psyche feels bruised, my head wants quiet, my sketchy sleep wants oblivion but that’s not part of this. The ocean teaches absolutely that it is not, and never will be, about me. 

# 129 Moral? Ethical ?

Moral? Ethical?

I watched a beautiful Cooper’s Hawk concealed within the bare tree branches very near the feeders. A patient, watchful, no doubt hungry hawk sat waiting for the little birds to come for breakfast as they do nearly every morning. She/he sat for a long time without any other birds in sight until a FedEx truck turned around in the parking lot and flushed the hawk from its hiding-in-plain-sight spot. A bird feeding station becomes a hawk feeding station. All bird lovers learn that there are far more little birds than raptors and that everyone needs to eat. It’s nature’s way. Accepting this in real time in front of you is a wholly different matter.

The beautiful white-with-spots Snowy Owls come down from their far northern summer grounds of Canada [irruptions] to the northern latitudes of the U.S. in the winter. They, too, are looking for food. As they are birds of the tundra they like wide open areas, marshes, long stretches of beach, or airports; vast flat areas with long sight lines. They sit still for extended periods of time perched in higher places (chimneys, tall poles, or sometimes merely rises on the ground) waiting for rodents to resume their normal scurrying. This gives avid photographers a lot of time to stalk a perfect Snowy capture, that odd term photo buffs use for a good photograph. When Snowy’s are disturbed by too avid shutterbugs they fly off without a successful hunt. Emaciated, starving owls sometimes end in wildlife rehab centers, or at least the “lucky” ones do and they make it. Others die in this habitat as a result of trophy hunting by those wanting to get their “shot”, each feeling entitled to do this despite the obvious reality that getting sufficient food is why the Snowy is there in the first place. The the code of conduct guidelines for birders is that if you’ve flushed a bird or if whatever the bird is doing in it’s habitat is disturbed, you are too close. For birders, that’s the purpose of very expensive binoculars or scopes. “Serious” photographers also have equally long lenses but now they want to get close enough for tight head shots, focused eye details,  or close ups of talons thus eliciting social media and Facebook group members to swoon and praise.

Trophy hunting is always putting the wants, the desires, of the human before basic needs of wildlife survival. There is only the thinnest of lines separating camera and gun when the lives of the wildlife are at stake. Photographers protest such a stand as extreme but if their objects of desire die as a result of their actions, is it?

The elected leaders of the nation go golfing and skiing over a Christmas holiday as the pandemic guidelines require everyone to stay home. Do what I say not what I do “ leadership”. Cases spike alarmingly upward. The government heads are on vacation while vaccine distribution is not yet detailed, stranding potentially life saving help in warehouses. Congress passes a mere sketch of financial assistance as families are evicted, unemployment benefits lapse, and children go hungry. This legislation goes unsigned for days as the petulant president clings to fantasies of retribution towards those who accept reality. I am not writing divisive political commentary; this is an observation of breakdown and chaos, of unnecessary hardship and loss. 

How do we measure our individual morality or ethics? It seems as even the most mundane parts of daily existence are now laced with ethical chaos. What is safe? How do I get food and other necessities? How to I prevent exposure and how do I make certain that I am not an unknown spreader? Every choice of staying in or going out or desperately wanting to see family, friends, and loved ones can be a life or death matter. 

We have arrived at a time of ethical and moral upheaval. Exhausted and drained by nearly a year of unknown onslaughts our greatest challenges are still ahead. How we handle every choice we make is up to us and it can and will make all the difference in the world.

Irruptions: See https://valleyforgeaudubon.org/2020/11/22/what-is-a-bird-irruption/#:~:text=Bird%20irruptions%20follow%20

#128 Looking Forward, Looking Back



Looking Forward, Looking Back.

Glasses raised, a toast is made welcoming the New Year at a Solstice party hosted by my daughter’s friend at my daughter’s house in San Francisco. Good riddance to 2019 which hadn’t been a great year for most of us there, friends and strangers gathered together and expressing hope for the year to come: 2020. 

This memory gives me caution as I read and listen (via Zoom) the hopes expressed for this horrid year’s ending and the turn to 2021. I stay silent, as I’ve played Debbie Downer one too many times since last March. I won’t list here my causes for concern, my awareness of astrological transits that hint broadly of more immediate troubles to come.

My focus at this moment concerns the range and extremity of recent storms. Since October there has been a string of destructive weather, particularly in the form of high wind damage. A wide spread nor’easter dumped a lot of snow and, out here by the water, there were totally bare patches of ground just feet away from a five foot snow drift that engulfed the outdoor staircase to the house. The driveway was blown clean, my car didn’t not require even a mitten’s worth of brushing, yet at the place where the driveway meets the road the snow piled deep into a concrete consistency that held fast to all four tires of my housemate’s SUV. It took the substantial truck of the plow guy  to free it. 

A couple of weeks later a storm blew up from the south, the 3rd, 4th, 5th (?) storm since late September to come from that direction. On Christmas Day it was 55 degrees with torrential rain bands, and 65 mph wind gusts. When it was over the snow had vanished. Bits of green grass could be seen in the mud. Beside where that staircase pile of snow had been there were pale green day lily nubs protruding from the ground looking like they were waiting for a spring rain. 

Every one of us can share examples of extremes of climate and their effects on our lives. Like so much of what we have been going through we understand that now, nothing is predictable. Human behavior has altered what we once knew and took for granted. Now we are beginning to understand that Nature is reacting and we are not (as if we ever were) in control. 

So much has needed our attention, injustices gone untended, the distribution and accumulation of wealth and poverty showing unprecedented ranges, divisions by class, gender, and politics pushing beyond any sense of reason or logic. I have much faith in the rectification of such dire ills. I don’t expect to live to see the eventual outcomes, the long range benefits of our current disruptions, but I am certain they will come. In the meantime we are, literally and figuratively, going to be in rough seas. My future hope is far stronger than my past rage. Divisional politics has run out of time. Our only choice is to pull together to find ways to meet each challenge as it comes. Much will be lost but there is much to be gained. 

The past is over. There is only the present moment headed into the future of Now. 

 

 

 

# 126 Believing the Unbelievable

Believing the Unbelievable.

What if the United States military really was concealing hard evidence that UFO’s and aliens have visited our planet? This may not be such a stretch for many who already firmly hold this belief, but I am an agnostic on this particular subject so it seems reasonable to ask: “If this was proven how would the information change your life?” How does seemingly unbelievable belief alter our lives?

Human history is filled with examples of world wide pandemics or plagues, the last one in 1918, a time in which your grand or great-grandparents were likely to have been alive, yet we have faced the current coronavirus as if we have been singled out, as if all that came before and was written down didn’t exist, as if the rules for preventing a pandemic virus’s spread did not apply to us, even if most of this was known in 1918. What good is a history we do not know, or know and still think it is not applicable to us? Is this our ignorance of our past or another example of an unbelievable belief?

In trying to understand even in some small way the disconnect of current alternative realities, my first thought was to think of Mass Hysteria as a possible way of describing our disconnect. I first thought of the Salem Witch Trials  but even light searching of the subject proved my lack of historical depth. The massive hysteria of witch accusation involving the murder of mostly (but not entirely) women occurred in various European locations from the 1400’s into the 1600’s prior to the Salem trials (1692-93) in America. Mass hysteria, or mass psychogenic illness, or collective obsessional behavior, shows up repeatedly in various forms, places, and times and involve truly interesting behaviors, interesting enough for you to do some searching yourself. Plausible reasons for such behaviors continue to emerge, as do these oddly curious hysterias. Will Mass Hysteria someday be used as a tag for what has happened these past years in current American politics?

The questions loomed larger than my capacity fo research and understanding. My tired brain wanted escape so I began binge watching the TV series “Merlin” made originally by the BBC. Immersing myself in Arthurian legend felt like a sure way to bypass the ever present mind loops searching for reasonable explanations concerning our current political and pandemic situations. Instead of escape, I was gobsmacked by the concept of Enchantment, a magic spell cast upon the unknowing, creating behaviors that would never be probable under ordinary circumstance. Enchantment! A plausible explanation for our current reality divide even more applicable than Mass Hysteria? Is a large scale, modern, enchantment possible? What sorcerer could have conjured the spell? (Don’t confuse the deliverer with the conjurer).

We don’t know where behaviors and beliefs of Americans are headed. The divides seem profoundly bleak, the road to repair steep and long. Will answers, solutions, eventually emerge? Needed are varieties of ways of seeing, of expansion, of inclusion, ways to break out of defined and acceptable channels.

Fairy Tales seem more relevant now than ever. Morality tales are useful reminders of what drives the human spirit. If you aren’t already a fan, you might want to wander off to the fantasy section if you can find a bookstore or library still open. Use online sources if needed and go searching for fantasy films and books looking for a reminder of how such powerful, imaginative, stories illuminate what may seem beyond us.

Tales of the Dark Verses the Light are quite the eye opener.

#124 Prayer


Prayer.

In the shower this morning under the stream of hot water pouring over stiff places, I realized this is where I say my daily versions of what I call “Prayer”. I intend no irony or blasphemy in calling it such although I understand that for those with disciplined religious practice, my use of this term might offend. Mine is a highly individualized and (perhaps) quirky version of Spirituality. I have been terrible at discipline my entire life although that didn’t apply when it came to education, profession, or projects where I have been capable of  hard focus driven by love and directed purpose be it through knitting, homesteading, gardening, photography, or things connected to my love of books and the world of information sharing. For me work has often been a form of prayer.

I recognized my morning shower thoughts as “Prayer” first, because every shower brings gratitude that I live in a time where instant hot water streaming from a faucet is a great privilege. It’s almost as if I had traces of memories where hot water was never a given much less available so easily, so I consciously give Thanks for its daily presence. From there the movement into other forms of prayer, prayers for family and friends or for others in the midst of trouble of one kind or another Lately there are prayers for healing the divisions that have so plagued our nation and elsewhere. Much prayer seems needed.

Giving Thanks, a different form of prayer, goes on throughout the day as my eyes catch sight of critters, waves, clouds, light, horizon, or color. Each and every awareness is a gift. Nature is my framework for Spirituality. The small and the vast and all the ranges in between resonate with reminders of the consciousness of creation, the connected flow that runs through all. That’s about as specific as I can be.

In tough times both gratitude and prayer seem sorely needed, a way to stay alert to all that is precious in our lives. When being together physically is not possible I am even more thankful that this path I’ve taken seeking Spiritually was offbeat, divergent and personalized. My version of Church, Synagogue, Mosque, or Temple is without walls and not linked to others in sharing the experience, but I am deeply hopeful for all those in houses dedicated to Prayer, those who follow a much more straightforward path than my own.

#123 A Beautiful Life.

A Beautiful life.

A relative-by-choice lost his father recently. Close to dying he told his daughter that he had lived a beautiful life and was ready to go. He was 100.

The words and thought stay with me. Would most of us choose “beautiful” as our life’s summation descriptor? Any skepticism i might have once had is tempered by the extraordinary people I have gotten to know in their 80’s and 90’s, a time I think may hold a gifted opportunity for transformation. 

What does it take to get past the perilous years of failing health, of increasing pain, and the sorrow of losing so many you love? In my mid-seventies, the view of these extraordinary elders seems as if the finest grit sandpaper has polished their senses to a burnished bright energy, a sheen of clarity we often refer to as “wisdom”. What stands out is an awareness, finally, of what essences of life are truly important, love, above all, tempered by a great forgiveness of imperfection. And yet this view does not suffer fools nor accept dark deeds, but urges all of us to rise to our highest natures citing examples of what might still be possible.

Our impatient culture seems to hold little tolerance for gray or white heads as they go about  their days moving slowly as older bodies require. The aged are often seem as using up resources more readily needed by those who are younger. Little do those passing understand the polished gemstones hidden in plain sight. 

 

#122 When Darkness Comes

When darkness comes.

After the time change in November the already fading daylight quickens leaving most all of us complaining about the onslaught of night long before we are ready, as early as 3:30 in the afternoon in the farther north regions of the lower forty eight.

What’s less often mentioned is the early beginning of daylight. I find myself restlessly awakening at 5 or even 4 a.m. as first light shows in the sky above the Atlantic Ocean. The house is cold at this hour, reflecting the deep chill seeping through the walls and windows. It’s far too early to rise from the bed, far too early to crank up the heat. It’s so much cheaper and more energy efficient to confine the heating to the bed itself, to stay tucked and toasty in that tiny space for as long as possible. Staying in bed of course is possible in retirement, when not only do I not have to go to work but I also can set appointments for later in the day.

You’d think that staying tucked under the covers would be delightful but the truth is that the situation involves tight cocooning, the air is so chilled an arm attempting to hold a book or an iPhone means a really cold appendage.

Restless under the covers I watch the light play among whatever clouds are on the horizon, first in black and grays, and as the sun nears the horizon the first color begins to show, the intensity of it most dramatic in the earliest stages of rising. Sometimes in that early darkness the lights of a boat headed out to sea resembles an illuminated ball without detail. How cold is it out there moving across the water?

Almost every morning seascape is a vast horizontal painting, a 180 degree view, but the thought of warm feet hitting the icy floor keeps me watching wrapped in blankets. The camera sits on the desk neglected and chilled.

#121 Creatures of Habit

 

Creatures of Habit.

As is the pattern of my life I woke around 4 a.m. Perched on the edge of the bed looking out towards the ocean at such a dark hour there were only faint traces of moon shadow on the porch. As I looked toward the water I realized I was seeing irregular flashes of white light. No thunderstorms were in the area which gave me a slight moment of panic thinking that something might be wrong with my eyes, except that the flashes of light were irregular and from different locations. After a few moments of watching (without my glasses) I realized that I was seeing flashes from a phone taking pictures of the ocean. Someone was out on the rocks in the wee hours of the night. Slowly I recognized pools of round yellow moving patches, a flashlight illuminating the rocks as the person moved along the water’s edge.

In the four years I have lived here I’ve never seen anyone out on those rocks after dark. Those with fishing poles usually push the limits of natural light but they retreat when true darkness falls. Of course it is highly probable that others have been on the rocks while I was sleeping. Only in cold winter when an icy coating slickens all surfaces have I truly not seen humans along the jagged shoreline. The pull to be as close to the power of the water is constant yet surprising when the tide is exceptionally high and waves are huge. Diligence has to be paid at all moments, the need of awareness of an escape route ever present because the rocks are daunting and access to patches of higher ground in front of the few houses out here are widely spaced. The rule holds: “Never turn your back on the ocean”.

The most interesting part of all of this has been my assumption that no one would want to be out among those rocks in the darkness. Long ago a Somali friend who grew up near the ocean in Mogadishu told me that in his country it was believed that bad spirits came out of the ocean at night so no one who lived nearby would go near the water after dark. Darkness to humans means fear of what might be lying in wait. Is darkness still fearful in modern life or has light pollution robbed us of our own powerful abilities to adjust? Living in places without street lights means being able to see planets and stars, means awareness of vast, and ever present wonder, means feeling like a tiny speck amongst the unfathomable.

We are creatures of habit long past the point where things have undergone radical alteration which we fail to recognize. We cannot adapt to what we fail to notice. Perhaps one of the reasons we global humans are having such a hard time during this pandemic is that we want what we know to return. We are resistant in so many ways but our lives have already changed forever.

What is most interesting is our challenge to turn and face the unknown trusting that modifications and entire new ways of being can come into being during this opportunity, for opportunity is truly what is happening. If we faced forward and not back perhaps we’d see this time as it really is, being able to glimpse the light beyond the darkness.