Category Archives: journaling

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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Surprise: Rose-Breasted Grosbeak

IMG_6335What a joy it is for me to see a new bird at the feeder!

Yesterday morning, a male grosbeak appeared on my feeders. Despite it’s muted fall colors, the triangle of red breast is unmistakable. The eyebrow streak is prominent, the black and white spotted wings definitive.

Apparently grosbeaks migrate through my part of Florida in September and October, usually as solitary birds. I got a photo to reassure myself: I know what this is.

What else will surprise me today?

I finally talked to my son yesterday. I was frustrated I had not been able to reach him for several days. I complained; he grew angry and resistant. This is an old pattern for us, often because I insist on my way. Sometimes I’m right, but often I need to take more gentle approach. That works better with him.

To be honest, it’s been challenging to raise a son as a single mother. Growing up in a household of girls myself, I’ve felt disadvantaged at times. I find I either hold him far too close or let him drift out too far. Thankfully, I’ve had help from many different wise advisors along the way.

This time, when I insisted he set a time for him to call me back, his voice rose in anger in frustration.  “You can call me, you know!” “I have called you, “ I retorted, “hundreds of times since last week!” On that note, he hung up on me.

Wait! This was not the loving, kind, caring, compassionate, understanding, nurturing phone call I’d planned! My resolve must be stronger than my anger to communicate effectively with him.

Sigh.

So, what I supposed to learn from this? What is the message of this migratory visit from the rose-breasted grosbeak? Do I know what this is?

I’ll look it up, but I’m guessing it’s something like, Life is unpredictable. Keep watching, and take advantage of connection opportunities when you can. They will be there.

That reassures me slightly, if not entirely.

Here.
In the single mother garden.

~~~~~~

From: Animal Speak:  The Spiritual, Magical Powers of Animal Creatures Great and Small 

  • “This beautiful little bird can teach us much about proper family relationships. It can help us in healing family hugs and restoring family love.”
  • “It will help you in seeing family patterns that you have brought over into your present life, along with your present family members.”
  • “The grosbeak awakens a new pride and nobleness in the family process.”
  • “The grosbeak has on its chest a rose-colored triangle that looks like a bleeding heart.  This totem can help teach us to heal all of the old wounds and hurts of family origin.”
  • “The grosbeak helps us to see our family relationships as a true melody, each note separate but part of the larger whole.”

Reflection:
Wow.  I’m astounded that’s the symbolism of the grosbeak! A clear indication from the Universe that the time is now to begin the work of healing old family wounds, whatever they may be.

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Even Now, I Long for the Adventure

misty-shot-yorkshire-dales-settle

“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 Shearin, “The Sound of a Train”

I had such a precious time that summer in England, walking in the moors, being by myself with the sheep and the rabbits and my journal.

I wasn’t lonely. I wasn’t even cold, though it was rainy and damp in mid-July. I had to make a fire each morning in the wood stove of the English cottage where I was staying. The glowing hearth made it a little harder for me to leave, but even then, the wildness called to me—the adventure, the romance of walking somewhere unknown, discovering giant landscapes, pockets of flowers, massive rocks on a cliff.

I stood on some of those rocks the first day and heard the lonely call of the Lapwing, my only companion it seemed: pee-wit, pee-wit, pee-wit.

I was alone but not lonely. Well, sometimes I was, maybe a little. I could always talk to strangers in the pub over dinner—like the father and son who were hiking together across the top of England. Even now, I long to step back into that landscape, that time, that conversation, again.

We were in “the highest pub in England,” where I’d driven on a lark late in the day, my tiny car hugging the ground as it climbed higher and higher into the top of the Yorkshire Dales National Park. After a delightful conversation and a half-pint with my fish-and-chips dinner, it was time to head home. I had a long drive ahead of me. At 9:30 at night, it was still light outside but the darkness was coming.

I set the GPS and followed it, noticing it was taking me back a slightly different way, but I trusted it—even though another voice in my head said, Are you sure?

The scenery around me became more and more desolate—barren, rocky fields, high cliffs, no signs of life. I came to the bottom of a hill and stopped the car, stunned. A rushing torrent of water was flowing over the road in front of me, fast and fierce. How would I get through it? (It never occurred to me to turn back and go another way.)

I looked around in the darkness and found a rock at least six inches high. I threw it into the middle of the stream, to see how deep it was. The water swallowed the stone completely. I got back in the car, and, gritting my teeth, drove straight through.

Even now, I long to be on the lonely road and feel the exhilaration of getting to the other side.

—from a fast write on July 14, 2017, with the women at the Community Transition Center, on the theme of “poetry of place.”

Reflection: I enjoy using the exact same materials for those on the “inside” (incarcerated women) and those on the “outside.” I absolutely change nothing. They totally get it. The format for the circles allows each to experience the poetry and the prompts in whatever way works for them. It’s accessible but also deep. I listen to their stories, and they listen to mine. And we never know what’s going to happen on the other side!

photo credit: Independent Cottages, UK

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Waiting for the Birds

 

 

Return from Yosemite
Journal Entry, June 9, 2017

I’m back in my writing chair, drinking my coffee and waiting for the birds. The feeders weren’t completely empty this morning, but mostly, so I added fresh suet and seed. Now, I wait.

Ah. Here they come.  First, the intrepid blue jay, with his low, insolent whistle. Then a red-bellied woodpecker. Both just stop by to say hello, but not to eat. Then, surprise—the shy brown thrasher, bird of a thousand songs, who lands on a branch with tail cocked high. I step to the window to watch him as he dives to peck at the seeds sprinkled below the feeders, among the grasses.

I watch silently at the window, and Buster, impatient with my ups and downs, hops onto the couch instead of waiting for me to sit back down on my chair.  From there he can keep an eye on me without being disturbed.

Now the jay and the house finch arrive, and their darting movements disturb the absolute stillness surrounding me inside and outside this house. It’s already deep summer here in my Riverside neighborhood, and the heat and the humidity blanket all.  Sunday morning: Not many are out and about.

Ah—my favorite, the downy woodpecker, finds the fresh suet. My wait is rewarded.

What a huge tumbleweed of experiences and images I’ve experienced over the past week!  It’s been difficult to take it all in without my early morning writing time to process it, putting space between the experiences of each day—like trying to read a page in a book without whites space between the lines and in the margins.

But here I am now, in the absolute stillness and quiet, watching the birds return, as do my thoughts, my memories, my experiences of the past week. Each thought a bird, landing silently on the branch to be observed, studied, appreciated, in the silence, as I begin to wonder what to make of it all.

Here.
In the Riverside Garden.

Reflection: It’s like my ears are still ringing from all of the ‘noise’ of this vacation. Gradually, the ringing subsides, and the experiences emerge.

Brown Thrasher (from Animal Totems: Dictionary of Birds)
When Brown Thrasher appears to you it is time to sing a joyous song of life and all of the experiences that surround you. Coincidences and synchronicities will expand your spirituality in a profound way. He teaches ways of communicating by listening and singing your own song in life along with care and tact in how you speak. He is about following your soul purpose and recognizing innate abilities. Communicating by listening and singing your song, being carefree and open with thoughts, ideas and creativity are part of Brown Thrasher’s lessons. Sensitive to surroundings, he shows how to follow through with your impressions and hunches. Brown Thrasher teaches the art of camouflage, timing, action and inaction. He demonstrates alertness, internal peace, and personal reclamation and transformation. Qualities of generosity and gentleness will bring rejuvenation and beauty to your world. Are you bringing joy and harmony to others? Is it time to lighten up? He will aid in focus and clarity to find balance. His medicine will show how to adapt with a renewed sense of joy. Brown Thrasher has a well-rounded diet; are you eating right? The time period for Brown Thrasher is about 9 days. Rapid developments await you. He will help keep you grounded so that you may sing the song in your heart.

 

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Captured Moment on the Journey

IMG_6496.JPGWe were on the boardwalk, looking over the savannah.  We’d just spotted two birds in the tall Florida grasses, just beyond a tree trunk and a clump of bushes. We all paused, trying to identify these two brown, long-tailed birds.

I could not make them out. What were they? Curious, I followed them when they flew away, startled by our movement. The others continued down the boardwalk, but I went in the opposite direction, hoping to get a closer look.

I did!  There they were, one clinging to the grass, the other perched in a bush. I tried to find it in my binoculars, confused at first by the clumps of leaves on the bush, until it’s round breast came clearly into view, proudly flashing in the sun.

White throat.  Slightly flat brown head.  White beak…not real long.  It occurs to me, this might be a migratory bird, since I didn’t know it right away.  Maybe it was a shrike?  But no; too brown.  Maybe an oriole?  No, wrong color scheme.

I puzzled for awhile, and finally, worried the others might get too far ahead, I moved on.  The boardwalk stretched out ahead of me, empty, bare, warmed by the sun.  I quickened my step, wondering how far they had gotten, then calmed myself, hearing their voices.

I slowed down again (at least in my own mind), wanting to hold on to that moment: The open savannah, the warm sun, the light getting a bit stronger as it rose higher in the sky.  I was aware of that in-between state of the present, with the pair of birds  behind me and the small flock in front of me, clutching cameras, binoculars, jackets.  They were in the future, this moment was the present, the unknown birds already in the past.

Such are the combined pleasures—and insights—of hiking on a trail, looking for birds, and slowing my stride to capture a moment of time.

Here.
In the bird-watching garden.

P.S. Bird list from the day: White-eyed vireo, yellow-rumped warbler, two great blue herons , red-wing blackbirds, mud hens, tri-colored heron, kingfisher, flock of ibis, pine warbler, voice of the pileated woodpecker!

(P.P.S. see more pictures and watch a video on our WWf(a)c Facebook page.)IMG_6493.JPG

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Interruption

IMG_5339About a month ago, I left my journal at a friend’s house, so I had to start a new one.  When I got the old one back, I started writing again where I’d left off.  I noticed a lot had happened in a month’s time.  So I wrote about it.  (Note: Journal technique: time capsule)

IMG_6135May 29, 2016

A lot has happened since I lost my journal.

  • I planned my first street protest.
  • I went to Santa Rosa, Florida, for a reunion with three dear friends, where I photographed purple flowers.
  • Despite our protest, the Zoning Committee of City Council voted to approve the zoning change to my neighborhood
  • I took the Journal to the Self series for the fourth time, this time facilitated by my friend and newly certified JTTS facilitator, Meg Rohal, so we can work together to expand the expressive writing community here in Jacksonville.IMG_5745.jpg
  • City Council also voted to approve the zoning change, with the exception of five key votes.
  • We began filing an appeal.
  • I went to Kanuga, North Carolina, for the 2016 Journal Conference and heard Pulitzer-Prize-winning poet laureate Natasha Trethewey.
  • My kids came home from college for the summer.
  • Camille got a job and is writing an article for Edible Northeast Florida!
  • Matt survived his freshman year at LSU!
  • I joined City Beautiful Jax as a board member.
  • I held a writing circle in the woods for a Write + Hike + Eat at Down to Earth Farm.
  • I wrote a table of contents for my new book idea.
  • I learned three new bird calls:  yellow-throated warbler, Eastern phoebe, song sparrow.
  • IMG_5836The downy woodpeckers in the back yard fledged the nest.
  • I decided I’m ready to finish setting up my bedroom, the last room in the house to get my attention since my move.
  • I’m helping to start a non-profit to help give citizens a stronger voice is our City’s zoning decisions.
  • I got closer on the redesign of my business brands (I’ve got four of them).
  • I planned my trip to Belgium (and Luxembourg, and Ireland, and Paris), for this summer, kicked off by Camille’s study abroad program in Paris.
  • Camille’s passport finally arrived in the mail!
  • I began planning ANOTHER street protest.

Now I’m headed to brunch at Community Loaves with Camille, where we will eat homemade bread and walk in the garden.

Life is good.
Here.
In the Riverside Garden.

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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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