Category Archives: gratitude

Country Morning

IMG_7781Hamden, NY. Upstate.

Honestly, I was scared when I got here last night.  So dark! A porcupine greeted us as we arrived, trundling along, his plump body and prickly quills undulating as he walked. He glanced back at us, and I quickly shut the car door in case it threw its quills at us.  Everyone else jumped out.

I lingered in the car, dreading the cold and the dark and the hectic shuffle of bags and belongings being transferred from trunk to porch and to farmhouse. Steeling myself, we got out, Buster in his sheepskin coat and me in my purple one. We headed toward the house, looking out for the porcupine and feeling safer now with the house lights on.

Julian reported that the porcupine was slowly climbing the tree in the front yard.  I wanted to see but was too scared by the all-consuming blackness to do more than take a quick glance. No sign of her.

I headed inside where I was pleasantly surprised to find it warm and cozy; the furnace had apparently been on for a couple hours. Jon and Dad began working on the fire in the wood-burning stove in the living room while Liz and I began unpacking the Thanksgiving leftovers.

I gave Julian a $20 bill to keep taking Buster out so he wouldn’t tinkle on the floor out of nervousness. “I’m scared of the dark,” I whispered, confessing my weakness. He accepted that without comment, just glad for the cash as any 17-year-old would be.

With Julian in bed before I was, I forced myself go outside one more time with Buster, turning on all three front door lights. I stood on the porch while he stretched out the leash down the front steps to the frosty grass below. I could see the stars through the trees and wished the lights were off so I could see better, curiosity fanning my courage.

Darkness stayed very close throughout the night as Buster and I camped out on the couch, close to the warm fire and its faint glow. Neither of us moved much, though I had to unzip the sleeping bag a couple times as hot flashes caused sweat to pool on my chest.

I waited until morning light had crept in enough to see the furniture outlines before slipping on Dad’s coat and stuffing my hands deep in the pockets. Not too cold outside, and I felt alive. Dark branches contrasted against light blue sky with streaks of pink and orange. I took photos while Buster meandered about, and we both kept an eye out for the porcupine. I half hoped, half dreaded to see her, but she was gone.

The chickadees across the road began their morning scold and I looked around at the many tree shapes emerging against the lightening sky. The grass felt crunchy under my feet, the frost stiffening their spines against my foot steps, the sound like breaking glass.

No one was stirring inside the house yet. I added a log to the stove and opened the vent; flames snapped and crackled as I settled onto the couch again with a cup of coffee and my journal. Fortified by the country morning, I felt brave again, knowing the darkness is really only in my mind, and that fire, and a blank page, can banish it.

Here.
In the country garden.

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Longing For Landscapes

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North Dome on the left and Half Dome on the right, with the Merced River dividing the two: Walking in the Yosemite Valley this summer.

“To experience a place, I need to walk in it as often as I can. Abenaki native poet Joseph Bruchac says, ‘We need to walk to know sacred places, those around us and those within. We need to walk to remember the songs.’”
—Susan Goldsmith Wooldridge

Inspired by my recent trip to Yosemite, I decided to ask the incarcerated women I write with on Fridays to explore their own inner and outer landscapes; to share the special places they’ve been, to reveal their own travel dreams and experiences.

We began, as always, with a poem; this day it was The Sound of a Train:

“Even now, I hear one and I long to leave/without a suitcase or a plan; I want to step/onto the platform and reach for/the porter’s hand and buy a ticket/to some other life…”
—Faith Sharon

This generated yet another poem, constructed from readback lines I gathered during our opening words:

Even Now

Even now, I long to step into big landscapes./ I long to step into a new way of life./ I long to step into the living room of my own home./ Even now, I long to step into reality, into memories; to get back what’s lost./ Even now, I long to step into this new sober life that I started to create./ I want to see my children again./ Even now. —Collective Poem, Community Transitions Center Writers, July 14, 2017

Each of the stories that followed became another collective poem I constructed from their readback lines:

Travel Longings

I traveled to North Carolina./ It was so beautiful./ It was a big change for me, but a good change./ I was not ready to come back.

I went to Baptist./I remember it like it was an hour ago./ One minute apart./ I couldn’t sit straight up. I had to get on all fours in the front seat./ He didn’t know what to do./ At 12 a.m./ Chris stayed with her the whole time./ Just because he’s gone doesn’t mean he has to be forgotten.

It was very far from my heart./ I wouldn’t deem it special just yet./ Especially to a 5-year-old, sitting with stories inside of her./ I don’t know my real name./ There’s a new life to claim./ You can change you but not your experiences./ My honesty amazes me./ I was unwanted and lived my life like that.

A penguin./ And yet it still thrives./ The penguin mates for life. / It’s love is loyal./ Love and loyalty means the most to me in this world.

A journey inside myself./ Banning away the fog./ Trees surround me./ A marble archway and a red door./ A little black kitten emerges./ She brushes my leg./ My world disappeared.

—Collective poem, CTC writers, July 14, 2017

I’ll share my own travel story in my next entry.

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East Wind Blowing

IMG_4878The robins are coming to life.  The loose flocks lurking around the neighborhood are now moving in, feasting on the red holly berries that just turned the proper degree of ripeness after January’s crisp nights.

The activity in the backyard this morning caught my eye as the robins darted from pine to holly and then back again, like trapeze artists in a circus performance.

A plump, speckled one suddenly landed on the fence, eyeing me as I came out the back door for a closer look.

Round, red breast.
Beady, black eye.
Fast, firm grip.

She contemplated me, pausing for a moment in the work of her life: to pluck ripe berries before making her way up North for nest-building time.  It’s a natural process that can’t be stopped; a force of nature that can’t avoided.

“You better be ready for a growth stage,” she seemed to say, eyeing me steadily.

I’m a bit surprised to find that I am.

IMG_4383As I look at the photos of the new house I covet—a cute cottage, just the right size, in just the right neighborhood—I realize I’m actually looking forward to change.  I’m not holding on to this place.  The bright red door of possibility is as warm and welcoming as the robin’s breast.

“Change is coming,” the robin told me. “You must learn to tolerate the strain.  Don’t let Change stomp all over you with clumsy work boots and thick soles.  Let Change gently blow you to your new destination, like the East wind that brought Mary Poppins to #17 Cherry Tree Lane.”

It’s true that change is inevitable, like the turn of the seasons, like the robins’ need to eat and  migrate, like the balmy spring that will follow the frozen winter of my heart.

Spring is my favorite season, after all.  Perhaps I can tuck its blooms into my own red breast and get ready to migrate to my new home.

Here.
In the garden.

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I Hung Curtain Rods on Christmas Eve

IMG_2683We’d hoped to get to the Christmas Eve service, but when my dad realized it was at 7 p.m., not at midnight, I think the plan started to fall apart in his head.

Frankly, he’d rather hang curtain rods.

I’d given him a very long list of of repairs to do when he arrived to spend Christmas week with me this year.  The kids were visiting their dad in Texas, and we had a lot to accomplish before they returned home. Although I’m fairly competent with a screwdriver, making those small, time-consuming household repairs has been a bit beyond me since my divorce.  I used to have contractors take care of all that — which was, in and of itself, a lot to manage.  Now I work with a more modest budget and mostly my own two hands.

Which is how I found myself at Lowe’s on Christmas Eve, in the faucet repair aisle, while my dad was at home fixing the plumbing under my bathroom sink. It was my third trip to Lowe’s in three days, and I was down to a sink gasket, a #2 screwdriver, and a curtain rod.

IMG_3016I asked the woman standing next to me scouring the same rack what SHE was doing at Lowe’s on Christmas Eve. She informed me, rather matter-of-factly, that all of her family members were in Chicago, so she did not have any Christmas Eve plans except home improvement.

Horrified by the loneliness of that statement, I scurried away, glad to be going home to my Dad. I might be hanging curtain rods on Christmas Eve, but at least I was doing it with family.

When I got back, Dad was just finishing up the plumbing job, which had required him to spend a lot of time on his back under the sink. At 85 years old, this was no small feat.  I admired his fortitude, and wondered aloud if I should put the trout in the oven to cook while I jumped into the shower and dressed for the service.

Dad admitted that, actually, he really didn’t want to go anyway.  He’d rather take a hike on Christmas Day for something special and just finish up the open jobs that night.

IMG_3019What a relief!  My shoulders loosened and I celebrated by taking a little extra time to whip up a rather delicious Hollandaise sauce for the broccoli.  The trout browned nicely in the oven and I set the table with the Limoges china from my mother, gold-rimmed stemware from my grandmother, recently gifted silverware from my sister.  It was nice to think of all of them being present with us while we sat down to enjoy our meal.

After dinner, I put a homemade crumb-top apple pie in the oven as our intended reward for the evening’s tasks, and we headed upstairs for the curtain rod job.

Which came out beautifully.
So did the pie.

When we sat down together just before midnight to warm pie and cold ice cream, I was glad that we had stayed home instead of rushing to the service.  I might’ve pushed it, on my own, driven by that old desire to do it all and then some. But sometimes, I’ve learned, the best way for me to “honor thy Father” — and my own self — is by keeping it simple.

My dad takes his first selfie ever on our Christmas Day hike in Guana Reserve.

My dad takes his first selfie ever during our Christmas Day hike in Guana Reserve.

I sent the kids a Merry Christmas text before I went to bed, so as not to intrude upon their Christmas Eve activities with their dad, and fell asleep content, with visions of apple pie, curtain rods, and repaired plumbing dancing in my head.

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Early Morning Fall Mist

photo

photo by @dalbacky on instagram http://instagram.com/dalbacky

I just peeped outside the front door, through the leaded glass panes, and saw a thin bank of mist out there.

Reminds me of the mist on the farm where I grew up, hanging low in the valley around the house and barn early in the morning.

Mist makes the world mysterious, briefly transforming it into something special — and then it’s gone again, a small gift only for early risers.

Through the back door I see a female cardinal at a feeder that’s been empty all summer. The season is changing, and plants and animals are in a different relationship with each other. Perhaps the birds are starting to stock up again on my bird seed, prepping for winter.

Fall mornings these days include me urging Matthew out the door on time for school — which didn’t work out today. It also includes walking the dog, perhaps with a slight coolness in the air, looking about us as we go, searching for signs of the turning season.

Or is it me that’s turning, entering the fall season of MY life?
The thought lingers, like a thin mist, lying low in my garden.
Maybe.
Or maybe not quite yet.

Here.
In the garden.

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Bird By Bird: On A Quest for the Summer Tanager

I decided to go on a quest for a summer tanager today.

I’m having a “staycation” while the kids are out of town, so, outdoor adventures close to home are in order.

Last week's run through the woods...aka, "Walking Under Raccoons," or, "Touched by a Swallowtail," or "Wish I had bug repellant with me."

Last week’s run through the woods…aka, “Walking Under Raccoons,” or, “Touched by a Swallowtail,” or “Sure wish I had bug repellant with me.”

On last week’s adventure, I ran through Guana Reserve, where I spotted “giant garden spiders, an armadillo, two white-tailed deer, a raccoon in the trees I walked under, a hawk nest, a white cloud butterfly, a swallowtail butterfly, an impassable flooded trail, snakes in the grass, ticks, fiddler crabs, leaping frogs, lizards, birds, and that was enough,” as I noted on Instagram.

This week, I hit the Guana Wildlife Preserve, where my new photographer friend Don Christian said I might spot the tanagers.  “Just head for the oaks and keep looking up in the trees!” he said.

I was thrilled to hear that I might be able to see these mysterious creatures!  I am in love with tanagers.  Last summer I happened upon several scarlet tanagers in the mature woods of the Laurel Mountains in Pennsylvania. I was practically euphoric.

My son, Matthew, and I have had summer tanagers on our “watch list” for a few years now, but, I never knew where to find them.

Now I do.

deep in the oak trees at Guana Wildlife Preserve

Deep in the oak trees at Guana Wildlife Preserve

So, I packed a lunch of peanut butter and jelly, scribbled the directions in my journal, stocked up with water, two cameras, natural bug repellant (I HATE that stuff but this was necessary!), my phone, and a song in my heart.

So, this is what “following your bliss” feels like, eh?

But first, the run.  I planned to combine bird-watching AND running the trails.  (p.s. this is not really good for spotting birds).  I figured I would run first, THEN come back with the camera.

Well, it wasn’t great for bird-watching per se, but, I did get to see lots of other things:  beautiful Florida oak groves, many swallowtails, fiddler crabs, and lots and lots and LOTS of flies, mosquitos and horseflies.  But hey — no ticks!  (So far, anyway).

Cool lizard with lunch in his mouth.

Cool lizard with lunch in his mouth.

Once again, as I got to the outer reaches, and took a wrong turn, and ended up further away than I thought, I did say to myself, Hmmm…why DO I have to do everything so hard?  As I turned into a grassy section, the signs said the trails sometimes flood.  Did that stop me?  Oh, no.  I just went deeper and deeper in the woods.

I was on a quest, you see.

Well, eventually, the flooding did stop me, so, I had to turn around.  But that’s when I bumped into the baby armadillo!  Such a cutie!  He was hunched up in the grass, as if he was thinking,  “Hey, if I cover my head, maybe she won’t see me!”  But I sure did, and stopped running long enough to take out my phone and snap a shot — even though the lens was steamed up.  I got super close and he untucked his head and looked up at me, with his cute little pink ears and  sweet face.  I smiled and kept going.

Baby armadillo through my steamed up iPhone lens!

Baby armadillo through my steamed up iPhone lens!

Finally, I reached the parking lot again, and took out my camera for the “bird watch” part.  I thought I had heard an Eastern towhee in the pine section, but I couldn’t tell for sure.  Needed the telescope lens of the camera.

So, very quietly, with a LOT more bug spray on me, I headed down the trails.  I saw a weird lizard with something in it’s mouth, which I now realize was a bug he just ate.  Ewww!  I saw a delightful blue bee, a green dragonfly, wildflowers, a painted lady butterfly, and a lovely brown moth.

I spotted a baby cardinal, sitting shyly behind a branch.  I heard bullfrogs.  And I spotted something high up in the trees…yessss…it was…an Eastern towhee!

Spotted an Eastern Towhee, even though he was not singing the exact same "drink your tea" as they have on my birdsong CD...maybe a Florida version?

Spotted an Eastern Towhee, even though he was not singing the exact same “drink your tea” as recorded on my birdsong CD…maybe a Florida version?

OK, not a tanager.  BUT, this was the first towhee I ever located on my own, and was able to photograph!  So, that was plenty exciting for me.

So now, I guess I just have to go back, and see if I can get the tanager.  I’ll keep listening to Stan Tekiela’s CDs on “Birds Of Florida,” to try to recognize the tanager song.

But I’ve got one more bird to check off my Life List, and I’m plenty happy with that.

Here.
In the Florida garden.

 

Painted lady

Painted lady

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Actually, I DO like spiders and snakes!

After an indoor labyrinth walk yesterday in Ponte Vedra, instead of heading home, I headed toward Guana Beach, called by the promise of remote beach and undisturbed beauty.

I needed a little “wild” time.

Guana River State Park is a mostly pristine coastal scrub ecosystem, according to the signs in the parking lot at the third beach entrance (my favorite because it’s the most remote). As I headed to the beach from almost empty parking lot, I paused and observed the wildness of the brush along the walkway.

That’s when I spotted an enormous black-and-yellow garden spider making its web. I marveled at its giant body nimbly sliding down long threads and then picking its way back up again, completely absorbed in its work.

Black and yellow garden spider at Guana Reserve

Black and yellow garden spider at Guana Reserve

My face was about 18 inches away, and when a breeze blew the web a bit closer, I found myself stepping back — and then noticed an even bigger spider, with an even more fortified web, sitting quietly in the middle of a long zig-zag of threads.  This one was about 4 inches long, the other was about 3 inches. And, there were two more  “smaller” spiders (two inches) hanging nearby (I later learned these were males).

It was  a little bit of wild, right under my nose.

Satisfied by this glimpse of wildness, I continued to the beach, which was sprinkled with just a few folks. I noticed the dappled sand, still imprinted with the many drops of the recent hard rain.  The waves ran up to the roughness, tickled it, and then ran back.  Two plovers walked in the water just ahead, keeping a wary eye on me.

I took a few pictures and thought, I should tag these, “#OhYeah! #ILiveAtTheBeach!”  I felt grateful to be there.

Remote beach at Guana.  A little bit of wild.

Remote beach at Guana. A little bit of wild.

Back in the parking lot, still wanting a bit more wild, I got closer to a cardinal singing its evening song at the top of a dead branch among the salt-curved tree tops.  Then I walked to the edge of the parking lot, looking for more interesting wild stuff.

I found it.

In the most remote corner, I saw another giant spider, this one even bigger, building its web.  Behind it was another, and then another, and then another, and I suddenly realized, Oh my God, there are hundreds of them, covering every few feet of the wild scrub under the oak trees! This is a truly wild and remote corner. THIS is what wild nature looks like!

Maybe spiders horrify you.  (Remember the song, “I Don’t Like Spiders and Snakes?”) They don’t horrify me, though I did not care to get TOO close (except to take pictures).  I was thrilled to see them, actually.  I was thrilled to see what “wild nature” looks like, when it’s forgotten, untouched, and unmolested by human hands.

I drove home a little lighter, relieved to know that there are a few places left in Jax that are pesticide-, litter-, and developer-free.

Here.
In the garden.

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