The Privilege of Being a Human Being

IMG_9133His breath was short and shallow, his eyelids sealed shut over unseeing eyes. His large dusky hands lay flat and quiet against the crisp white sheets. The dying man was tall, very tall, filling the Hospice center bed from Headboard to foot.  How tall, came as a surprise. I had never seen him horizontal before. He was resting, but not restful. There was a decided lack of “ease” in his quietness and a sense of physical tension, as when we anticipate some adverse experience.

I had seen him last a few days prior. He was a “new admission” then, a few hours into his inpatient scenario, and this new environment seemed well outside of his comfort zone. He sat upright in the bed, his hands folded in his lap surveying the array of small cups of various appropriate liquids. He spoke some half-hearted thoughts about “getting better to get back home,” but the words seemed to drop from their own weight onto the floor. Despite his “fish out of water” demeanor, on that day, he still carried an air of pragmatic self-sufficiency. We did some Reiki, chatted a bit. He said the Reiki helped him feel stronger… for a while.

Weeks ago, he had shared his loss of confidence in the medical community at large, and one doctor in particular.  A botched surgery many years ago, the first of many, had permanently damaged his independence. He told his story that day with no attempt to evoke sadness or sympathy.  There is no surprise then, that he would deal with this next turn of events with the same pragmatic and private courage.

We had met six weeks ago in the living room of his son’s family home. I remember the bright sun blinded me for a moment as I stepped into the cool dim room. His lengthy limbs were held tautly. He contained himself to the center pillow of an overfilled sofa draped with multiple, soft, comforting throws.  This was new; this living with family. It struck me, that despite his raspy breath, and obvious weakness, it was this lanky being’s intention to be as unobtrusive as possible.

It quickly became clear that was his families’ intention to be as caring as possible. I noted the grandson in the yard with two leashed, barking dogs. He was keeping them quiet for Grandpa’s visitor. His son had anticipated, and queued up some soothing Reiki music with a quiet ocean vibe.  His daughter in law welcomed me with a hug, and a heart so open and available that it overflowed into the overgrown yard from the open front door.  I had stepped over the unfinished irrigation project and around half-planted pots of annuals. Garden tools lay discarded in the walk, as if a “regular day” had been interrupted by a phone call that changed everyone’s life. Priorities change in a heartbeat at the end of life.

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On this day, it was clear from my doorway vantage point that he had finished his life’s work here. He had, in his 84th year completed his navigation around his personal wheel of life.  He was clearly waiting at the terminal for whatever comes next. I looked into the faces of his children and felt the gut grabbing wave of child-like panic that chases and clings to a dying parent.  A bareback ride down a steep trail on a wild horse feels safer than this new reality. They had been here many hours and their wild horses were ready to bolt.

But it was not a day for fearful panic, not when loving sadness would be so much more appropriate. I padded back down the corridor to where I had seen a most precious resource of this Hospice Center. She is a virtuoso of life passages and she was standing at the front welcome desk, smiling her smile as I had entered the building. I asked for her help and we trotted back to his room.

Smiling at the son and daughter in law she went straight to him. She breathed in the situation for a moment and went straight to her work. She touched his hands, and his heart with the gentle knowing touch of a Reiki Master worthy of the title. She cradled his head, touched his cheek with such tenderness that I, standing at his feet, could imagine he was a tiny baby, and this was his Mother’s hand.

Tiny creases of tension melted from around his eyes. A gentle sigh caught in his throat. Her focus on the dilemma of his passage was so infused with palpable compassion and love that my ears began to ring with, “All is well, all is well, all is well.”  I thought for sure I heard singing. It was like being suspended in the space between inhale and exhale. He was awash in comfort and connection, I think we all were.

She broke the spell with a brilliant smile at his son.  She crossed the room, placed a hand on his shoulder with an indisputable suggestion that they go outside for a while, take a walk in the sunshine, go look at the trees. Due to her diminutive stature, his seated height, and her standing was about the same altitude.  He looked in her face, thanked her for coming, and did what she suggested.

“Stay with him until they come back in.” She said to me, as she gave me a kiss on the cheek and nearly galloped back up the hall to her next mission.  Hospice workers, Employees and volunteer folk across the board talk about the privilege of helping when human beings and their families make their transitions at the end of life. There is another perk; sometimes the people that come to help are magnificent beings and we get to learn from them.

I have seen this small woman dish out wisdom and love so full of grace that the recipients spun around and dropped their facades before they even knew what hit them.  She talks softly, with strength and integrity.  She has spent her golden years GIVING of herself, to whomever appears. I asked her if doing all the Reiki and the volunteering has kept her so young?

“I just enjoying doing things for other people.” She said.

She’s turning 100 this week.  Think about how many lives she has touched. Imagine the comfort she has brought to those in turmoil. Yes, she is a particular miracle. I think the real magic is not that she CAN do so much for others, but that she chooses to spend her life in service to other people.

What kind of a world would this be if everyone did this? What if we all spent our elder years being elders, helping out, being available? Can you imagine the possibilities!!??

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Shanghai Odyssey

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Photo by zhang kaiyv on Pexels.com

The language of connection

Faces, with smiles by default

Movement toward another

leaning in to understand better

Softens the hard surfaces

of concrete homes stacked to the sky

I watched the slender woman in wide black chiffon pants scamper across the lobby on a mission of hotel hospitality. It is unknown why she didn’t have what was needed to complete the sale under her counter of coffee and croissant. There may have been a rule, or a policy, or a belief that made it necessary to run to the bar across the lobby to get change. The quiet slap of her soles on the marble floor caught my attention as she raced against the possibility of a customer’s annoyance. It’s easy to appreciate the importance of gentle co-operation in a city of so many souls. When the light is dim, the wifi weak, and technology fails to fulfill the expectation of infallible personal independence, what will prevail is connection of another sort.

Across the world, despite language barriers, people use their phones to call a car without much fuss and bother. For me, on this day, it was a group project. I was launched from my Shanghai hotel this morning with the help of a young bellman in a too big jacket and a Didi (Uber) driver with a sense of humor. When the language switches to Chinese and the glasses can’t be found, it’s time to rely on the “kindness of strangers.

And indeed, the ride did get stranger. Three loops of elevated road stacked like a giant spring were needed to reach the suspension bridge that rose higher than my 33rd floor hotel room window. As we approached the breathtaking pinnacle, I reached for my phone to take a picture, hearing the customary, “You may now use your mobile devices,” playing in my head. The driver, attempting to aid my impromtu photography, cheerfully opened the dusty window to facilitate even more clarity of our airborne state. It was appreciated, but it was really surprising. No one “expects” an open window at that height.

I returned the proud smile in the rear view mirror. I sent the picture to a dear friend who by rights should have been sleeping, but wasn’t. They don’t call it “grounding” for nothing! We looped our way back down like ants on a vine, a few texts later, and my knees were solid once more.

The surprises kept coming. About 10 minutes later, the driver turned down a narrow neighborhood street. Laundry waved from twenty stories up, a skinny cat jumped out from a discarded stained box, as an elderly couple stooped on the sidewalk trying to straighten a bicycle wheel that hadn’t been round in quite some time. There was a single open iron gate and our car pulled up there. My stomach dropped. If this was the “modern” Art Installation space that I sought, it was significantly more “edgy” than I expected.

The GPS chattered on in cheerful Chinese, the driver did a neat 5 point U-turn out of this private enclave and we moved on a mile or so to a closed gate, with a flashing light, manned by a bored guard. “This is it?” I said in English. He pointed to his map screen pointed to the gate, smiled and unlocked the door. I pushed a blurry spot on my phone and he was paid, but didn’t leave. There was something about the riverfront almost gentrified warehouse area devoid of people that didn’t seem quite right, I guess.

Standing on the sidewalk, I listened to him call out to the guard. After a short conversation he was gesturing to me to get back in the car, which I most certainly did. Up the street and around the block, sure enough there was a “front door” to this warehouse and indeed there were 10 others waiting for the doors to open.

By now I had realized that my my minor outing in the world’s most major city was a personal odyssey. In a place where English is spotty, and my Mandarin is limited to one word, I am grateful to those inclined to connect with another and I have found this connection is everywhere. I have good news, if the internet fails, we still know how to do this. Maybe if we keep at it we won’t need the technology after a while.

Circles of Life

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The steel gray clouds deepened in response to the waning December sun. Splats of icy rain fell on the 624 pale green acres of Arlington National Cemetery.  Marble monuments stood, a silent foil for the prattle and posturing of Washington DC, just across the Potomac. On December 15, 2018, the supporters of a project called “Wreaths Across America” appeared at the edges of Arlington National Cemetery throughout the day to lay wreaths, to pay respects, to remember and remind that we are all related.

Many people, thousands of people, their numbers estimated between 44,000-57,000 came out in a cold rain to lay circles of Maine Balsam against the smooth cold marble of a quarter million head stones. There it is; the painful irony: the circle of life, in winter resistant evergreen, tied with a bright red bow leaning on the finality of death in carved marble.

Two young women had heard the request for volunteers to lay wreaths on all the graves at Arlington. The National Cemetery is part of their “hood,” an unexpected swath of green amidst shiny high rise buildings and the multi lanes of the 395 corridor. They had come in an UBER from the apartment just 6 miles away to a drop off point at the edge of the access road.

They and the thousands of others trudged in on foot, a fitting way to honor a soldier. They waited an hour or so to reach the back of the tractor trailers holding fresh green wreaths of Maine Balsam. As they waited, they watched, and they felt. The instructions given were simple: choose any stone, and say the name of the person engraved there out loud and lay the wreath. Looking out over the sea of white stones, more than 400,000, is it possible to understand the enormity of the loss?

But in communion with one stone, one name, the abstract became concrete, imagined heroes became flesh and blood, soul and spirit. They stood and watched as those around them completed this ritual. Life is never more real than when it is hedged by death.

The temporal imperatives of urban DC were rinsed away by the mid December rain. The heavy drops beat cadence on umbrellas and plastic ponchos. Rivulets of water ran in the faces of those focused on the task of acknowledging heartbreak and hardship. The women watched the others.  Military men and women in uniform came to a fallen friend, an elderly Mother pushed her walker awkwardly down the row, children in their best Christmas outfits standing quietly beside bent elders; these were quilted together on this grey day by the far away wail of a bagpipe. The vignettes were endless.

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Soon enough they had their wreaths and they found themselves standing amongst the graves of soldiers. In the dates and the names they found tiny pieces of story; those who died young, those who died in action, those that died of their injuries years later, and many that died after a lifetime of carrying traumatic memory that most of us will never experience, they were all there.

Spouses are here too, their names engraved on the back of the stone as if to “lean in” on each other when the going got hard. Entwined lives that began with crisp starched collars, sharp creases, pride and courage ending as all humanness does; ashes to ashes dust to dust. Marble is hard, cold and unforgiving. It’s chiseled meaning will hold strong in this place for a very long time.

So, what happens when you add a wreath? What happens when 44,000 or so living humans offer compassion and gratitude to hundreds of thousands of warriors?

The women told this story. She walked amongst the rows with the first wreath and came to him quickly.  He had died very young in the 1970’s. Saying his name, she felt gratitude for his service and told him without words that he is remembered.  She continued to walk, taking in the names, the people, feeling the strength of her own emotions.  She walked until she found a family name engraved in marble. The name of her great great grandmother’s family of ten children who wandered across the US across 5 generations.

Knowing that he was of our tribe was enough.  She said his name, offered gratitude and took a picture of his grave and that of his wife of many years. The picture that she sent me opened a door of beautiful possibility.  His beloved wife was born on the birthdate of the woman’s great grandmother and died on the birthdate of her grandchild. His name was Evan, hers was Eva.  Sounds like family to me

So, I ask again, “What happens when 44,000 or so living humans offer compassion and gratitude to those who have died?”

Some might say what’s the purpose in this kind of enquiry? What’s the purpose in imagining that we could even guess at that answer? The purpose is central to what propelled 44,000 people out of their armchairs and Christmas shopping frenzy to serve the needs of those that will never say thank you.

I think they hear us and I believe it helps us all.

May we seek peace.

https://www.wreathsacrossamerica.org

 

A Letter to My Grandchildren about 9/11

Seventeen years ago, on September 11, 2001, before you were born and just a week after your parIMG_1057ents were married, there was an assault on our country in New York City and Washington. Assault means: a sudden attack. This assault that most people call “9/11” now, was the most terrible thing that I had ever experienced. It felt very threatening because our family was involved, and it was “close to home.

We lived on Long Island then and your Grandfather, “HP” worked in New York City. On this Monday Morning of September, 2001, he took the Long Island Railroad, walked to Midtown, and began his day at his desk on the 35th floor.  At the same time, a plane was taken over by men with weapons, and it crashed into the tallest building in NYC.  A second plane flew into the second “World Trade Center” Tower. Another plane was taken over and crashed in Pennsylvania.  Another flew into the side of the Pentagon, in Washington DC.IMG_1048 If you ever wondered why we stand in the long lines at the airport called “Security,” it is because of what was learned from this event. Putting all our things in a scanner, taking off shoes, emptying our pockets is what you have always done to fly on a plane.  When I was a kid, we had no seat belts in cars and babies rode on someone’s lap!  Sounds crazy! We learned the hard way to keep children safe in cars.  Airlines and governments all over the world learned how to keep passengers safe in planes after the 9/11 attack.

 

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Your grandfather watched this attack from his office in NYC.  He and yes, maybe a million others got down out of their tall buildings and walked home through the streets of Manhattan.  He and his coworkers walked across a bridge, found a ride, and walked some more. Your Aunt and I drove through the streets in Queens until we found him standing across the street from where we parked to look at a map. No GPS in those days and the roads were closed for the Emergency helpers.

We drove home feeling grateful that we were all together, knowing that we were very, very blessed. That evening we went to the beach at Smith’s Point Park to stand with hundreds of other Long Island residents. We watched the smoke rise, told our stories, and said prayers for all the hurt people. That experience will always be with him; it will be with all of us.IMG_1052

When you see the sad and angry people talking about 9/11 with hateful words remember that their hearts were broken by this event.  They were very scared, and shocked that anything like that could happen right here where we live. Some people have stayed in this “fight” place, they want to continue to hate ideas, cultures and groups of people.  That won’t help us have a peaceful life or a peaceful country. And it’s hard to learn when you’re shouting.

On this 9/11, I am sitting at the 32nd floor window, looking out at the Hudson River on a foggy September 12, 2018. This building is a half block away from what used to be called “Ground Zero,” the place where these huge buildings stood.  HP and I went to a party at the restaurant at the top of the World Trade Center once.  It was so foggy we couldn’t see anything, just like today.IMG_1054

From my window, we can see the 2 powerful beams of light directed to the heavens each year to remember the people who died.  From way up here on this high floor, we can see hundreds of small shiny things flying through the beams. It looked a lot like a porch light on a warm dark night.  Turn it on, and all the bugs appear! These were too big to be bugs.  Turns out, they are migrating birds, mostly Warblers from Canada that are called to the light. They circle in the light in great loops and figure eights, hundreds at a time. They make a particular sound when they find this place. I wonder what it is they are saying to one another? Or are they calling out to us?IMG_1053

 

This year we stood with thousands of people speaking many different languages in the place where the destruction happened 17 years ago.  We listened to the bagpipes played by New York City Firemen; who lost many friends, family and coworkers.  Right around the corner, I found something different. I found it in a mural done about children that inspired me to write this letter.

Three things I would like my grandkids to know:

# 1.  Life goes on, no matter what.

No matter what happens, the sun comes up and brings a new day.

#2.  Learn from whatever happens to you.

Take the emotions and use them as fuel for the fire of learning about how powerful YOU are. Help someone, be true to yourself, make a difference.

#3.  People hurt people.

It is a not their race, religion or even their country, it is an individual that choses to harm. Individuals can make bad, sometimes vicious choices.

Despise their actions and create the opposite in your life.

Never Forget

the potential for the world to live in

PEACE

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All photos, Carol Martell from the

“One World, Our Children” mural by Chinòn Maria

https://www.lifebelowcanal.com/home/3wj5p7hmma6l76mba5akf5hwtrt879

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Seeing in the Dark

Beneath the blue skies and cows of Schoharie County, New York lies a deep vast cavity, a cavern, named Howe. I’ve met other caves, with more expressive names like Mammoth, Wind, or Jewel. They were remarkable, but Howe Cavern holds a place in my childhood mythology. On the impetus of children two generations forward, I went there again.

A journey in the deep underground is like a stroll through your subconscious on catwalks. 

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We are creatures originally designed for the horizontal paradigm. Moving vertically feels different, it requires machinery, it requires trust. A bit of vertical venturing, like a bit of adrenalin, sharpens the senses, opening the mind to abandon limits of gravity and time. Remember your first view from 10,000 feet? Yes, human beings can fly.

Our group of 30 explorers represented most of the ambulatory human life stages. The elevator squeaked open and multiple three-generation family groups, and a twenty-something couple shuffled into the small space. “She” and a child squished in the back between two bellies, giggled as we landed at the bottom of the shaft with a delicate “thud.”

Our sticky tribe of humans and a cloud of upland humidity exited the shiny silver elevator as if a single entity.  We squinted into the dimness, collectively feeling our way forward into the cool rocky vestibule.  Once adjusted to the close proximity of strangers, chilly dampness, and low light, we shuffled down a gentle grade to form an awkward body of souls at the mouth of the cave.

Our elevator operator slid around shivering children and elders in tightly laced sneakers. Reaching the edge of light and darkness, the recent High School graduate turned to face us, identifying herself as our tour guide. There was no doubt. Her pale skin and light blonde hair were a reflection of where she spent her summer days; 200 feet underground in 58 degrees. With the flat A’s, and nasal tones of Central New York she greeted us.

Welcome to Howe’s Cavern”

I intended to listen but something in the deep darkness beckoned. I was attracted to a sound. A single drip of water spoke in the velvet blackness behind me. Nothing is so dark as the inside of a cave. Breath aligned with the water’s cadence, and a well-practiced response of relaxation and expansiveness dropped into place. I sensed a movement and a gentle migration of air.  It was as if we had landed inside the great chest cavity of a great snoozing deity. I stifled a giggle.

The group began to move.  I stepped out of the reverie in time to follow the group down the path, as the lights clicked off behind me. The guide looked over her shoulder at me. Wielding all the power of her position she shot a stern, silent warning in my direction to “keep up.”  She addressed the group before turning on her heel and continuing around a rocky corner.

“Don’t touch anything, stay together, follow me.” She said.

The rules of visiting this alternative reality were simple. The path that followed along the tallest side of the cave wall was lined with iron handrails. Warnings about defiling the cave were dire.  It was enough to know that our worldly breath and the lights for safe passage had caused small patches of green moss to grow on the walls. Taller trekkers might have to duck here and there, but it was as easy as a stone path through a formal garden.

 Spring water: a term that has lost its magic.

It is alive and well and living under the earth. In her practiced patter, the guide explained that it was water that carved this open space, it was water that rearranged the limestone into round smooth assemblages across years with six or seven zeros. Lest we think this system is always a quiet trickle, she pointed out the high water mark a good 20 feet over our heads.

A small trail of pristine clear water traced the crevice along the irregular stone edge of the walkway. The sound of the water romping with small pebbles erased the chatter and footsteps around me. I imagined my relative position underground with all that dirt and rock between me and the sun. A sense of childlike joy and excitement welled up in my chest with clarity and memory trotting along just behind. I turned to speak to the person behind me and found the space empty, and the darkness full of “life.” I shrugged off a minor Déjà vu moment and padded along behind our group.

Caves are surprising.

About midway through the cave, the cool moist air became an animated interactive participant this 90-minute “Walking Meditation.” Each breath seemed to “high five” on the inhale as it flooded my bloodstream and cells with its own unique Mantra. Standing in this singular place, my busy mind stalled and rolled to a stop. I stood in the present, and the physical part of eternity turned her face to me and smiled.

Not everyone was dazzled. School children rubbed against their boundaries and irked their elders. A few visitors checked cell phones, chafing under the unexpected silence of “no service.” The guide led us along the red brick path to where two wide boats waited on the now substantial river of water.  The tiny capillaries had rejoined; this must be the Carotid of the cave.  We floated toward the sound of a waterfall, water flowing black ink at the sides of the boat.

Keep your hands in the boat!”

A sense of familiarity settled around my shoulders as we moved through the dim tunnel. A pale ethereal finger sifted through life experiences filed under “deep in the ground” and the smell of “wet limestone. Because the sense of smell has no use for the fine filter of ego, it remembers “all.” Back on the path, I spotted a hint of the original path. Old slippery bricks leading to a too small rock opening now barricaded by the lack of illumination. When lantern toting adventurers gave way to paunchy tourists with spending money, it needed to be an easier trek. The slick wet rock floor had been redesigned to modern expectations, but the old steps were still visible to those who knew they were there.

It came as a short movie; one elevator with a rusty gate, creaking down through rock with a small cadre of schoolchildren transported in batches. Someplace between handpicks and hydraulics, I had been here before. The 3-foot pillar formation rose out of the floor with a rakish tilt like a small tower of Pisa. The water glistened on the outside, not nearly enough to form a drop, never dreaming of a rivulet. The guide droned the words with the modulations of a hundred times said,

“It takes hundreds, maybe thousands of years to create each inch of stalagmite.”

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The cool damp fingers of the moist cave air wrapped gently around the back of my neck. It was all here; in the smell of the wet rocks, and the muted echoes of children’s voices just ahead. The memory was inserted back into my conscious like a coin in slot machine.  I felt “her” as clearly as I remembered the square, sticky red tokens we purchased to buy milk at Goodrich school.  “I,” or “me” became multiple choice answers with a lifetime of editions. Holograms of earlier versions of myself tapped at my shoulder and winked at me as they touched the forbidden stalactite forms with their invisible fingers.

I had stood exactly here; in front of the stalagmite named “Chinese Pagoda;” when I was 12, and before that at maybe 8. Fifty years had passed, “up there.” Most of my lifetime was already listed as “past experience.” Down here? Same old, same old. In the land of Quantum Physics, how fast does a rock vibrate?

My sixth grade “self” came forward then. Did I bring her or was she here in the cave the whole time? She leaned forward and I saw her curly brown hair and wide plastic headband. I looked down at my feet expecting to see the turquoise Keds and white socks of 1967.  She seemed unaware of me as she reached out- almost daring to touch the forbidden rock formation, but pulling her hand back in at the last minute. I saw her look over her shoulder as if she felt something, someone who couldn’t be seen. I couldn’t mistake the movement; I had done the same around the last bend.  She was looking for what she felt.  Looking for validation of what her more subtle senses knew:

“There is someone here with me.”

The thought of an older wiser version of myself following the “child me” down the cave path made me smile, then giggle, then laugh out loud. Nesting dolls and onions and artichokes!  The universe has a sense of humor.  There is no “back then” or “will be” there is only Now.  We are all here together.  What a hoot!  Images of all of us, countless iterations of “me” turning our heads simultaneously when asked,

“What’s so funny??”

If you would like to experience a bit of personal eternity and there is no cave nearby, there is a process for seeing through the partitions past and future.  It involves laying in the Earth, like a child on the beach. You could cover yourself with a cloth, some sand or earth. Stay there until all the doubts and illusions have migrated out like earthworms to the damp darkness and you can arise again reborn.

Reborn into the knowledge of who you really are.

You will find yourself renewed with the understanding that life is not a permanent condition and one had better get on with it.

Let’s Get Real

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Each day begins here with a parade of ten feet,

straight to the back door.

Standing in bathrobe and bare feet, I pulled the curtain and clicked open the lock on the sliding glass door. The dogs bounded outside, animated with unbridled enthusiasm for the smells of a new day. This is our morning ritual. I open the door, and they rush to experience the day in the “here and now.” On this morning, I stood behind the glass, reading very tiny letters that scrolled across my phone, ignoring the magnitude of the direct revelation that lie just outside this half-opened doorway.

Dogs are pragmatic and opportunistic, especially in the morning. There were two activities afoot; parallel purposes of equal importance.  The first: find what is “different.” What has changed in my universe since I passed here last? WHAT is NEW? Novelty is a powerful stimulus.

“Rabbit was here, …..ugh, that squirrel, Blast him!

Yup, Possum passed by… what is … THIS!”

 His nose dusted a pile of sultry pellets with the smell of Kale from the garden. He froze in perfect “Retriever” posture, pointing to the Hawk overhead. The hawk screeched out his protest at the indignity of being “run off” by the gang of blackbirds nesting on the swampy edges of the open field next door.  The dog’s interests lie mainly in waterfowl, retrieving a raptor isn’t part of his genetic programming. He moved on. Each novel sensation analyzed, swift judgements noted, their astute observations filed  within the canine collective wisdom under “What I know,” or “I’ll pretend I didn’t smell that.”

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My eyes did see the midnight blue Morning Glories. I heard the Sparrow call his mate from the garden fence, but my mind, my distracted, busy mind was attentive only to what I had chosen to see.   I was engrossed in a research article concerning the benefits of children spending time in NATURE.

That’s NATURE in capital letters,The evidence based therapeutic NATURE comes with trained professionals and private funding. It is not the “garden variety” cavalcade of Nature that lives in my house, under my house, and all around all of us.  That Nature is so richly accessible here that I need to wipe it off my feet before coming into the house.

Meanwhile, in the yard, the dogs had moved on to the second agenda; finding the best place to squat and eliminate that which was indigestible from the day before. It seems that a bit of visceral adrenalin helps in satisfying this task as well. A good bark, a growling offensive at the Woodchuck through the fence and viola! whatever didn’t serve yesterday is gone. Could it actually be that easy to discard the unusable “stuff” of life and start fresh?

Mammals enjoy watching a good “fight for survival,”

keeps us regular.

A soft breeze carrying the fragrance of wet willows blew by me as I stood at the open door. It cajoled my attention away from the incendiary news headlines, Facebook posts, and late summer LAST DAY sales that clogged my Inbox, I saw a tiny movement halfway across the yard.  It was just visible above the grass as long as a week of rainy days. Two black wing tips fluttered open, then closed again.

I stepped out the door, off the deck, and settled bare feet into wet grass, all the while watching the slow cadence of the wings, without drawing the dog’s attention. A few good breaths and I was “in it,” back in Nature as a participant instead of an observer.  We are after all, also THAT.

Moving closer soundlessly, I could see the black wingtips of a Swallowtail Butterfly.  I saw the velevt softness of her wings, decorated with sky blue dots, and false eye spots that could fool a nearsighted potential predator. Her perfectly articulated “swallow tail” wings echoed the barn swallows that swooped overhead, feasting on post rain mosquitoes. Silent wings opened and closed to her own music as she extended her proboscis to partake of what this world had to offer.

Zinnia Abundance all around and you choose this…?

This is late July in the short Operetta that is a northern NY summer.  On this patch of land, on my watch, the people get paths and the wild things get everything else. The Milkweed is for the Monarchs,  the red clover, and Queen Anne’s lace bring in bees and bugs of all sizes. There was a pot of vermillion Geraniums on the deck and a galvanized bucket of summer Zinnias in Crayola colors next to the tree, a yard away.  The tall Phlox are just blooming, and even the Spring-time Wisteria has a few late entries nearby. For a Butterfly in July here there is so much to feast on.

Despite all the “Healthy Choices,” this beautiful creature, product of astounding feats of adaptation and evolution was sitting on yesterday’s dog food indigestibles, yes, she was enthralled and enthroned on a pile of yesterday’s rain soaked dog feces.  And what’s worst, she looked quite pleased about her find.  I checked back in an hour and she was still there, apparently fascinated with this pile of dung. This sad scene was reminiscent of my intended 2-minute email check that becomes an hour-long romp through Pinterest and beyond.  Hours dissolve while a weedy garden waits, and good books go unread. The metaphor slapped me in the face, and I am taking this to heart.

The extraordinary devices of connection and communications are merely tools and not wise Oracles. Are someone else’s selections and their advertising sidekicks worth that much space in my life? Second hand emotions and pre-digested opinions are no equal to direct experience. I will take my Nature straight, and I don’t need a battery.

Maybe I’ll get a watch.

 

 

 

 

Partly Cloudy with a Chance of Pain

Two Springs ago I began this minor treatise on planting a vegetable garden. Written from deep inside an early April reverie, I was pining to germinate something, anything really. Amidst icy sleet of an upstate New York “mud season”, I designed, and planned and prepared to plant a garden. Anticipating all that I knew this generous ground would bring forth, if it just had some seed and someone to plant.

young tomato

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April 2016

“My organic heirloom seed order from Seeds Now is here! There are forty-nine tiny plastic bags spread across my table, and a stack of empty peat pots in the garage. Unfortunately, I have underestimated the chilly reality of the North. I am about a month too optimistic.  My vision of a knees in the dirt, direct planting has transformed.  It is more a Thich Nhat Hanh mindfulness meditation in dirt and patience.

Spooning the mixed peat and perlite into the small pots, armed with tweezer and chopstick, I drop each seed into the earthy mix. An “Om” here and a “Pea” there, topped with a prayer and a pat for good measure.

“You will be a grand Cantaloupe!  You will be the first Pea of the Spring!”

A healthy dose of encouragement is always a good idea. Tiny Chamomile dustings, wrinkled dried beans, they all have the miracle of “concrete potential.” They could be an abundant plant with the right environs.  They could create and recreate themselves, transmuting soil and seed into something that has never existed before, in exactly this particular way. Each seed was offered what I knew to give: time in the dark to incubate, warmth for encouragement, a bit of direct sunshine and enough water for “damp.” Life starts in the damp, and dies in soggy.

Some of those seeds must be coiled springs, set to explode at the first moisture. As the snow swirled across my waiting garden, the Kale has germinated in under 48 hours. We may be having some for dinner before it’s warm enough to plant in the garden! Others, like Amaranth and Borage seem quite comfy in their dark warm spot. As weeks go by, I begin to think that they are smugly enjoying my meddling attentions.  Through weeks of gray clouds, I shuttle them from garage to spare bedroom trying to find a temporary sunbeam.  I imagine how these transplants from a proper British Herb Garden might respond to my muttered queries on their much anticipated arrival after these weeks of attentions, and no visible sign of “green.”

“We are considering germination.  We will get back to you when we are…….(sigh)…..ready.”

They aren’t ready, it isn’t time…yet. Nothing is more ambiguous than “concrete potential.”  In my chilly garage are all the makings of a glorious vegetable garden, it already exists out there in the Ethers. I am imagining it. I am hoping, no expecting some Findhorn scale bounty (https://www.findhorn.org/aboutus/vision/) complete with homegrown pollinators.

abundance agriculture bananas batch

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Bees! I have read the books, taken the classes, dreamed of bees, and yes, even dreamed that I WAS a bee. I have assembled my hives, arranged for a Beekeeping friend to migrate some of her ladies to my silent boxes hopefully in May, when they have regained their robustness. Bees don’t wish, they do. They act on what is there.

With the help of a Beekeeping mail list, a small library, and all the observation skills I can muster, I have assumed the mantle of responsibility for these miracle workers.

 I will try to make the most informed beekeeping choices.  I will keep them warm in winter, cool in summer, keep the bears away and feed them when they are hungry.   All the while knowing they are completely in charge of their own survival.  They are carrying me, I’m only along for the ride, and maybe some honey. “

That was two Springs ago.  This winter we were warm in sunny Tampa watching leaves the size of bedspreads grow sprout out of my white Bird of Paradise. I grew Basil and Parsley in a pot by the pool and listened from the screen porch to the “Uh-UH” birds comment on our private conversations.

The bees have survived a second hard winter in the shed at the back of the barn.  When I last checked in April, the golden hued “Italian” bees greeted me at the door as I removed the mouse guard.  This, a metal gate with holes the size of bees.  It makes bees come through the door single file while keeping out cold and the “winter hungry” mice. They were gloriously happy to fly out the now open windows in search of a Spring that wouldn’t arrive for another month.

insect bees flying

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The Russian crew next door are a bit more curmudgeonly in chilly temperatures. Note that Dr. Zhivago stayed in the Ice Palace until there were flowers blooming. They may be grumpy, but they are pragmatic. These dark ladies may swagger but they are less likely to blame a beekeeper for accidents of broken combs or spilled honey. They just get down to the business of cleaning it up, putting their world back in order and you had best “get out of the way.” On this cold day, a single dark Russian bee came out of the hive, buzzed with great agitation, spun on her back legs and strode back into the darkness.

“It’s not time!!!”

She spat at me.  Returning to her post, she tucked her fuzzy body back in formation.  For the entire Winter, months and months of cold, they surround their Queen in a tight ball of bees, rotating from inner to outer circle as their own survival dictates. The bees stay close, hopefully to the abundant stores of last Fall’s honey. Abundant honey unless, that is, a greedy Beekeeper has taken too much for themselves.

Bee Lore says the Russians high survival rate in cold, wet weather comes from their cultural sensibility to keep their numbers small until it is absolutely “Spring.” The “Spring” that matters: when the sun comes back and there is actual food out there.  They don’t lay eggs until it stays warm. I think the elegant Russian Queens don’t care for a cold backside.

agriculture bloom blossom clouds

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What changed in 2 years? Time feels shorter, kids and grandkids don’t wait, they keep growing like Kale. I like to be in places where the sun shines and green things grow all the time.  The time to do what you want is right now.

My grass is too long for suburban standards; we no doubt look abandoned, but only by human standards.  The Owl house, bat house and blue bird houses are in place, only the Purple Martin condo is still tucked into the barn. Fruit trees are blooming, last year’s Sunflowers have tossed their seeds about, and I’m sure the bees are grateful for no mowers, they have had every Dandelion and clover to savor in peace. None of these living things makes a reservation with me or keeps a schedule.  They show up and grow when the time is right.  And so will we.