# 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.

 

#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. 

 

 

 

#120 Living with Beauty

#115 Season of Color

Season of Color.

Most photographers relish fall. They wander the back roads of New England, especially in the Northern mountainous regions, looking for ponds or lakes to reflect the glorious colors of the changing leaves. White church spires provide good contrast as do old barns. You’ve seen a million such images and will most likely be drawn to them all of your life.

My few attempts at the photography of fall are not that successful. Oranges, reds, and yellows are not the colors that draw me but color itself pulls me like a magnet, only my palette longings are the blues, greens, and silvers of water. (Mostly.)

Color is a language, an emotion, we can feel with our being. We are affected by color whether or not we are aware of the ways it moves us through our lives. I was thinking about this recently driving around the marshes looking for Egrets, one of the last migration hold outs. In mid-Fall the Egrets begin gathering together, their beautiful white plumage and their gracefully long necks striking as they wade the marsh in a seemingly endless daylight quest for food. Nature makes no attempt at camouflage when it comes to Egrets: your eye immediately catches their stark contrasting white and oh! to see them in flight, those glorious wings in air.  As long as the Egrets are still here we have not yet been abandoned to the coming cold.  My quest for seeing Egrets is three-seasoned which means I stay alert to the backdrop of the marsh for most of the year. As beautiful as are the golden grasses of fall or the fist hints of spring shoots but, more than anything, I love the flow of long, lush, deep green grasses with wind sway patterns that takes forever to fill the marsh, well into the heart of summer. The profusion of shades of green beyond imagining signals abundance as only a marsh can paint it, the epitome of green, the color that resonates “life”.

Whether we treasure a vast expanse of color like the fall hardwoods of New England or the subtle silver palette of the ocean on a cloudy day, something within us is stirred by color itself. Have you felt such an immersion? You may attribute your feelings to all the elements present: the smell in the air, the sounds of wind or water, or catching a glimpse of wildlife, but still, I challenge you to go to a place that moves you and, as much as possible, confine your awareness to the predominant color present. Drink in the color with your eyes and your being. Feel how it moves you, is present within you.

If yellow, orange, or red is what draws you there’s little time left to play with their spirit. I checked the marsh again today for Egrets. They’ve gone. 

#114 Tide Time


Tide Time.

About the only measurement of time that makes any sense to me any more is the cycle of high and low tides. I need my online calendar, and now the added assist of the phone’s alarm clock, to be prompt for Zoom meetings. I have to check every morning to see if I need to be someplace (rarely) or get the Zoom software up and running to not be a rude late comer and then I set multiple alarms for multiple Zooms if that is called for, otherwise the days blend into one another like puddles. Sometimes I’m focused on the day of the week but mostly I’m not. In a few cases I’ve not been where I needed to be or I’ve missed something important because the hours meld into one another and when I come out of the trance / space out / meditative involvement in whatever it was that drew me in, I’ve missed the deadline. It’s impolite at best and more than rude at worst.

The awareness of tide is reasonably easy by glancing out the windows but, best of all, I love to drive over to the beach where the surfers gather. High or low tide is very evident and I particularly love the sound of the surf flowing in and out on the hard sand beach. This week we’ve had a day or two of particularly high/low tides which means either zero beach for walking or a vast expanse for wandering. The crowds kept my immune-compromised being away for the duration of the warm months. In true Mainer fashion the locals need to wait for spring or fall chill for decent spacing, to experience the solace they find in nature. The tourists really did seem oblivious to masking and I find myself wondering if that was because they thought Maine was safer in terms of the number of COVID cases and deaths. Is there no awareness we each could carry or import the virus?

Not having beach walked for months, the beautiful evening along with a light breeze and gorgeous setting sun light, enticed me to walk too far and for too long. It felt so good to be out in that air with so much space. I was hobbling by the time I got back to the car and I needed headlights to drive back to the house. Two days later I was limping badly but I’m hoping it will pass soon so I can do it again.

#113 The Art of Concealment

The Art of Concealment.

I stepped outside my door to soak down the parched front yard plants, bone dry from a long stretch of July-August heat with almost no rain, now even into September. My movement flushed a hawk from it’s perch in the tree closest to the porch door. I have caught a glimpses of this hawk before, stealth in the small trees, lying in wait, hunting.  It’s initial presence was likely drawn by the small birds who gathered at the feeder before I took it down for the summer. The common sparrows and finches are still here but are now dining on the natural bounty of the seeds and plants of late summer. The hawk remembers this location as a ready source of food and I am grateful I’ve been spared witness to his or her success.

The hawk flew a short distance to another tree, close but yet still remaining difficult to spot among the dense leaves. I stepped farther out on the porch hoping for an identifying view but the only clear view I had was the tail-feather bars as it flew away–a young Cooper’s Hawk most likely. A short while later a fledgling catbird was on the porch trying to conceal itself among the garden tools leaning in the corner of the porch where, mostly unused, they’ve stood gathering rust all summer. I suspect this family of catbirds was the hawk’s intended food and I was happy the young one made it though. Concealment by both, the camouflaged hawk in the tree branches and the tiny young catbird  trying to save itself by hiding, demonstrate nature’s way of survival for both predator or prey with an outcome that can go either way.

This seems to have been a summer of concealment, maybe even a year of it,  both in our personal lives and in the outer world, as we humans struggle with how to remake life under new rules that affect everything. The political world, always harsh but now with newly sharpened edges on much more dangerous tools, seems awash in concealment. The  extremes of behaviors are  being stretched beyond our society’s capacity to stay whole. It’s hard to hold the lives in our community in safety and security as the rules and guidelines of pandemic caution are so varied and interpreted in understanding and in practice. My sense of what is safe may not be closely related to yours and the ultimate  proof is staying healthy or getting sick, a dicey proposition in every case. Leaders obfuscate with underlying motives. Precarious economics scare everyone. Outcomes are not clear for anyone on any level.

Is anyone playing it up front and honest any more? Still not willing to enter the fray of retail stores, I limit online ordering to basic supplies. I’ve been ripped off three times this summer. The latest was a package which arrived holding only one of the two identical items I ordered, bubble wrap filling the space where the other would have been. I notified the company and sent photos of the packaging (as requested by them) as it was received, only to be denied my claim because the shipping weight of the FedEx package stated the weight was for two items. What’s clear to me is “someone” removed the second item in the packing room or on route, then resealed the carton and I’m left paying double while feeling like I’ve been declared a liar by a fly-by-night company. At a time we need compassion more than ever the affront digs deeply.

This is a time of struggle. Personal past traumas bubble up as opportunities to examine the truths we tell ourselves. Whether or not we stay silent or attempt to work through what we carry, concealment happens within our own psyches. We dance to the music in our head and are driven by motives we don’t often recognize. Is it concealment if we have been unable to face something within ourselves? If we cannot or will not take hard looks at our motivations and actions, if we hold back information from ourselves or others, aren’t we lying by omission? How do we uncover our own truths much less the truths of others?

Here I am amongst my inward leaf cover, sitting on my internal branch, trying to fix things before I can move along. It is damn hard and miserable work. My sense is I am not alone  but are we hiding our struggles from one another and ourselves, making it even harder when it was already difficult enough?

#112 KC

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

KC.

There’s a little spot not that far away from my house where I frequently visit. It is particularly inviting on weekdays just after normal working hours, even during this pandemic time. Individuals, couples, and families find their way there carrying picnic containers, take out bags, or (most commonly) pizza boxes. It’s an accessible spot to eat together outdoors and linger at the end of the day. There are often dogs although during the summer months they aren’t allowed on the beach. Tonight there’s a Siberian Husky puppy, little enough to look slightly bewildered, yet obviously enjoying all the sniffing as well as the attention being given by ooo-ing onlookers.

Many of the beach and lawn chairs carried to this spit of land by the water are turned towards the direction of the sun as it slowly glides downward. This is entertainment Maine style on a late summer evening. The beach goers have departed; there’s a real chill in the air which is fresh, leaning towards crisp, the scent of brine lingering in the late day hours. A few Cormorants are perched on their usual favorite rocks, wings now dry and anticipating going wherever it is they retreat to in the dark hours which are fast approaching. 

The moored lobster boats are nearly still as this evening’s ocean is barely a ripple. Two late paddle boarders seem content not to be going far as they meander around the boats in movement rather in tune with of a couple of ducks paddling nearby, it’s only the paddles that seem different not the intent or the motion.

The sounds blend and mingle: soft laughter, a distant gull’s cry, murmuring muted voices with the higher pitcher voices of children like vocal exclamation points, and the more distant sound of a rougher ocean out past the shoal. 

Cameras of all ilk are pointed at a striated bluepinkyellow sky with swirly white clouds, mare’s tails that promise good weather. The pastel sky will soon give way to stronger hues and be replaced by oranges and streaks of charcoal. Phone cameras, small cameras, even multiple cameras with hefty long lenses are slung over shoulders and a tripod or two at the ready are appearing. Here is a picturesque spot, essential Maine, subtle beauty preferred by quieter folk content to have their drama in this peaceful form of sunsets and changing sky.

I’ve spent many evenings at this place in all seasons watching people watching the day’s sun disappear below the horizon and the frequent explosion of color that comes just after it disappears. On a few occasions, more likely in winter, I’ve been the lone car in the parking lot. This never tires. I think it is the modesty of this place, the quiet beauty, unadorned, this place with nothing to prove yet offering the essence of Maine on a peaceful evening. May it forever be.

# 110 The Change

The Change.

In the last week of August I noticed color change in some tree tops on the ride to the dump. In New England early tree color has always been attributed to “tree stress” primarily due to lack of sufficient rain. This summer there was day after day of bright sunny skies and heat, too much heat for most. Lawns facing south turned crisply brown and garden watering was a must. We craved rain even as the remnants of a passing hurricane turned inland, far away from the coastline, giving us a lot of wind but barely a smattering of water. A drying hurricane? So very odd. 

Things change. As we ease into September, cloud cover days move in, the gloomy skies come with downpours or drizzles, not yet “enough” but the hoses can stay coiled. The temperatures drop, especially at night, and the air movement begins to have a bit of an edge. More than anything else I hear the change in the night as the ocean shifts from the calm ebb and flow of summer to rock pounding. There may be a few more days of warmth but the nights are already less hospitable for sky watching, beach sitting, or leisurely late strolls. Fall starts to feel like there is business that needs attending, maintenance chores that need doing, as the need arises to button up before the onslaught of serious cold.

Many relish this change as the heat and accompanying humidity of summer air is too hard on blood-thickened Northern New England bodies. With pure joy Fall is welcome as the favorite season of each year. Gradually the tourist traffic thins and once again it will be possible to find an ocean side parking spot.

This begins my season of mourning. There are far too many months of cold at this latitude for my increasingly arthritic bones and the first hints of the change fill me with dread. This pandemic year brings new challenges: we could socially distance in the warmth even if many were reluctant to do so. Approaching cold means additional isolation. I feel this in the vibrations of the pounding surf in the night’s midst. The unknowns and uncertainties of the coming months hold hints of further trouble. May a few more mild, soft days give us hope.

#109 Wet or Dry?


  • Wet or Dry?

Another set of thunderstorms rolled through late in the afternoon and, as has happened so many times in this dry summer, there was rain both north and south leaving us sandwiched in the middle with the barest trace of rain. I gathered the hose to water the now late summer hodgepodge of overgrown perennials and the too densely packed herbs I’d transplanted into the closest ground I could reach. The only stars of this jumble of what once must have been a landscape of joy are the older established hydrangea and the brand new one planted by a friend at the beginning of the summer. The newest one, plopped under tree cover for hydrangea loving shade, had barely received a drop of precipitation.

Meanwhile, the western states are in the midst of an unnaturally early fire season. Colorado, Montana, and especially beleaguered California, are in the midst of raging infernos. In coastal California a mass of dry thunderstorms (different from this hit or miss business on the northeast Atlantic coast) set off more that 500 blazes at a time of pandemic shortage of firefighting personnel. Homeowners have ignored mandatory evacuations, staying put in hopes of saving their homes and communities from ember-caused losses. There are many sleepless nights in near and far away geographies where loved ones worry as friends and relatives are putting themselves in potential danger—in August—when fire season usually starts in October.

At this same time hurricanes move into the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico dropping more rain than can possibly be absorbed by saturated soils (souls?). These opposite forces of nature seem oddly parallel with the divisive people politics raging at the same time. For years I have linked dire external weather and internal emotional upheavals (both individual and societal). In this time of changing climates this observation seems more accurate than ever but what I lack is the “why” so, like everyone else caught in these storms, I spin and stew looking for answers and solutions, and I come up baffled.

 

 

Continue reading “#109 Wet or Dry?”

#108 Clouds: A Photographic Essay

Clouds: A Photographic Essay.

Clouds are backdrops on beautiful summer days or clouds can threaten. Clouds are indicators of incoming or departing weather. Clouds can trigger fear or danger or joy. We notice them. Sometimes. Not always. Their presence can stop us in our tracks if we remember to stop and look upward.

Just a few days ago I watched the outer cloud bands from the tail end of Hurricane Isaias race northward. My location was far from the center of the storm so there were occasional small openings in the gray trails speeding overhead and patches of blue could be seen through those openings, reminders that this storm was not going to linger. Watching this weather and feeling the fierce wind pushing against the glass of the porch door on which I was leaning felt like a great privilege and echoed something I’ve heard from many: “I love storms.” I think that also translates as “I love clouds.” They come in so many shapes, sizes, and with such purpose.

Out from Two Lights, Cape Elizabeth, Maine

Over the Catskill Mountains, NY

Over Isabel Segunda, Vieques, Puerto Rico

Over Vieques, Puerto Rico on the road to Red Beach.

Over San Francisco

Over Acadia National Park, Maine at Sunset

 

Over the California Coast near the  Elkhorn Slough

Over the Pacific Ocean near Pescadero, California

Over Kettle Cove, Cape Elizabeth, Maine

Over the South Hills Mall, Poughkeepsie, NY

Over Grand Isle, Vermont and Lake Champlain

Another over Grand Isle, Vermont and Lake Champlain

Over Mouth of Casco Bay, Maine at Sunrise

 

Over the Ashokan Reservoir, Catskill Mountains, NY


			

#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. 

# 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

# 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.

# 86 Grace

Grace.

Grace is present in our world. Grace does not show off. Grace does not strut, or bellow. Grace is subtle and you need to be paying attention to notice its presence in life’s daily moments.

The air had warmed but I failed to notice. I was busily occupied inside and let slip away the first above 60 degree day since last Fall without any awareness, nary an opened window or door, or a sniff of fresh air. But the night brought rain and the morning’s sun shone through nature-washed windows. The salt crud that had coated the window glass with an unwelcome frosting since last week’s high surf was erased and the morning light made the world fresh again. Stepping out on to the porch to feed the birds was entry into a new season. Yes, there would be more cold and mostly likely even snow, but the air had been gently rinsed and the smell in the day’s early air hinted of mud rather than ice.

All day the sun played out on the water ducking in and out behind the clouds. When it was out the water looked green, that wonderful gray-green with the iridescent sea-foam green sparkle as the top of each wave tipped over onto itself, the color I think is the most beautiful color on the planet. When the sun tucked behind the lofty, floating cloud puffs the water turned blue-gray, the color painters most often choose for seascapes. All day the cloud forms changed in dips and swirls and, later, gathering into small masses looking like mini storms  approaching, not serious but as teasers saying “but I could if I wanted to…”

Such a simple day suggesting in-between season possibilities, a day of grace and beauty disguised as ordinary.

# 82 Out There

Out there.

When I meet people and the question about where I live comes up the inevitable words “I love it out there!” is the most likely response. Last night driving home after dark from a rare evening out I, too, felt like I was driving “out there” along the only route that passes through town, in then out again, turning a few miles later onto the road that runs out when you get to the sea. A map, Google or printed, shows a jut of land water to the left and in front of you. Aerial photos show the dark blue ocean with a brown-grey mass of rock trimming the edges, and a somewhat small cluster of houses set just back from the rocks.

I woke from a dream where I was traveling to where I lived before I came here. I opened my eyes to my current life, seeing the vivid horizontal streak of sky orange before sunrise and with it an underlayer of cherry red that only occasionally appears. I could feel the change from my dream-body to the waking present where a jagged dancing energy flowed just under the skin of my chest, realizing that feel is a near constant presence when I am here. I wonder about that red, the color of alarm, danger, excitement, passion. It seems to pair with that jagged edgy feel inside me.

The first moments I spent in this house I sensed the possibility of a vast presence. It remains to this day, as unnamed now as it was then, sometimes feeling like a challenge and sometimes, a mere unsettled sense, of nearly constant unease, perhaps and ebb and flow of a rhythm that matches the intensity of the waves and the wind.

I imagine living on a pleasant street in a tidy neighborhood thinking there I would not feel this underlying red, this unsettledness that is so constant. I am not referring to life’s ups or downs, the troubled times or restful ones. I am attempting to describe an existential energy present, I believe, where the vastness of the ocean pushes its might up against solid rock, opposing forces giving off energy release that is palpable even if all seems calm, or as calm as the ocean ever gets.

What images form in your mind when you think of the word “retirement”? I had thought it would be a time of rest, of unstressed  activity with time to savor. Instead, I landed in an energy vortex where beauty is a constant but ease is not. This is a stark awareness on a minute-by-minute basis. I am not attempting to describe emotions or feelings. The backdrop roar of even a fairly calm low tide is in my ears as I write. It is the constant presence of releasing energy. This truly is “out there”.

# 80 The Range of Beauty

The Range of Beauty.

Many of us in cold climates grumble about January: it’s long, it’s cold, it’s dark, and worst of all, it is a very long way from spring.

First there was an odd warm spell followed by a falling-in-clumps day of unserious snow, one of those pretty snows like the lazy flakes depicted on holiday cards. By afternoon the glop was present most everywhere with cleaned up roadways and good going. Then the wind picked up in late afternoon and by nightfall the temperatures plummeted and the glop froze solidly into ice ruts. By morning it was 11 degrees with 40 mph wind gusts. It became one of those winter trials where something–the car, the house–something, will break down because that is just the way it works when weather goes to extremes. There were repair trucks in driveways fixing the (most likely) expensive problems.

In a very typical New England winter weather pattern the cold was broken a day or so later when a snowstorm moved through, warming the air and dumping ten or so inches of pristine white over everything. The sun rose brilliantly in the early morning, the storm having moved north. The colors of the ocean and the sky and the light were exquisite and constantly shifting  the whole day.

Silvers, blues, traces of pink here and there, with tinges of green as the waves gently broke on shore, and a shining band of light on the horizon, like a magic highlighter pulling your eyes to the dancing light of that line of shimmer.

My thoughts turned to the beautiful summer houses on the shores of the Atlantic, empty, their owners far away in warmer climes. The measurement of abode when one has choices are often based on “climate” usually meaning temperature. We humans don’t care for being cold (many of us but not all.) But today’s winter beauty was every bit as glorious as a peak summer’s day. It might have even exceeded it, in the stark light and sparkling white. A gull lifted off the rocks, just as it would do in the summer, only the backdrop to the flight was gray and black and white, the colors of the bird itself.  The symmetry was precise and cause for a gasp of recognition and elation. This exquisite day was missed by those who were elsewhere.

I sat on the porch warmed to 70 degrees by the sun, my heavy wool sweater discarded temporarily on the floor. When the sun slides down under the horizon at day’s end the sweater will be needed again, but for this afternoon of light and beauty there is only “Thanks”.