Negative Space and the Law of Nature

treesYesterday at work, I noticed a poinsettia plant forgotten and slowly dying on top of a filing cabinet. With sadness in my heart, I asked myself, “How could I have let this suffer so?”

To be alive is to suffer, and to suffer is to be alive.  There is no doubt that suffering is hard and sometimes brutally unbearable, but it is an inescapable  law of nature.

I woke up this morning cloaked in my own suffering.  I thought to myself, “I am in a really negative space.”

I don’t want to suffer.  None of us do, but when I said the words, “negative space” to myself, I suddenly thought of what that means to an artist.  In essence, it is empty space.  It is the space within, between, and around objects.  Every positive space is surrounded by negative space.  It is needed to make a painting or drawing balanced and whole and beautiful.

Today we are having a big snow storm and I am looking out the window and I can see that the ground is already covered in a blanket of white.  If I look at it with an artist’s eye, I see that the whiteness of the earth and sky is the negative space.  It is the emptiness that holds the trees and makes them appear upright and strong.  The effect is a  landscape painting  full of simplicity, vulnerability, strength, and beauty.

How does the artist’s negative space relate to suffering?  I can’t speak for anyone else, but for me, maybe suffering is an opportunity to empty something out, to create a canvas where the positive space can shine more beautifully.

Full Moon, Full Heart

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Tonight is the full Sap Moon.  As I look at my window, I can see the opal light glowing on the maples, brushing the buds with a soft celestial kiss.  It is rising steadily over the mountains of Wendell, up and up, arching over my humble home, and it will soon shine through my window, keeping me awake with its taunting lunar gaze. I imagine it saying, “Come dance with me.”

I think there is a little bit of Doug in this moon (my cousin who passed away a few weeks ago).  I found one of his poems that he sent to me, and it filled my heart with joy.  Here it is:

The Harvest Moon and I
By Doug Hancock

During autumn in the high country
we spent many evenings at my lakeside campsites
sharing the warmth of an open fire together
and watching the sparks spiral up into the broad sash of the milky way.
We often flirted there
with you sometimes winking at me
or staring full on with your bright face.
I could feel you tugging at me
drawing me toward you with your gentle hands
with the same firm fingers that move everything you see.
For hours we listened to the night sounds together
the two clear notes of the Poor Will in the needled branches
and the bugling elk traveling through the dark forest
the shush of the low waves on the lake shore
and the rustle of bush and tree
stirred by the evening breeze down from peaks.
We could feel the temperature dropping
sinking below the mountain shoulders into the valleys and across the lake
pressing the cold and fire smoke along the ground between us into my tent.
From there,  I could see you leaving
moving slowly away
slipping behind the distant mountains
as I fell asleep and lost you to my dreams.

 

Cousin Doug

My Cousin Doug passed away on Monday.  He was my dad’s first cousin (so my first cousin once removed) and his death was rather sudden and unexpected.  I say this, not to elicit remarks of sympathy, but because I wish to share how special he was to me, and how grateful I feel to have had him in my life.

Doug was a true appreciator of the natural world, an active and adventurous spirit with the physique of a god, and a seeker of truth, meaning, and insight.

Visits with Doug were like treasures to me – rare but rich and fulfilling. We went for hikes and connected with the beauty of the land, talked about the things that were important to us, and philosophized about life and things unknown.

Most of our hikes and visits were out in the red rocks of Arizona where he lived, but we also visited in his beloved Woodstock, NY, where he spent many happy hours of his youth.  To hear him talk about those days was like being transported back in time, and you felt that you were there living that magic.  His mom, my Aunt Glad (who passed away last year at 103 years of age), had that same story telling prowess – unassuming yet captivating – that drew you into the memories in a way that made you want to reach out and and touch them.

I had been trying to get Doug to come visit me for several years, selfishly, because I wanted to spend more time together, and because I wanted to share the magic of my own little slice of woods and wilderness.  I know he would’ve loved it, and even though that will never happen, I know that he is with me when I’m out wandering the woods, looking at animal tracks or stopping to admire the way the sunlight is falling on the trees.

The last time I saw Doug was over the summer.  We went on an outing to Slide Rock near Sedona, AZ and spent the morning sliding down the slippery stream bed and jumping off of rocks into the refreshing pools of water.  When the crowds starting moving in, we scrambled downstream and sat on a rock outcropping talking and simply appreciating our surroundings and  being together.

That visit encapsulated what spending time with him was like – full of a willingness for fun, adventure, appreciation, and connection.  I will always treasure that, and hope that it will continue to be a guide for my own interactions with the world.

Doug was a kindred spirit, and I will miss him immensely.  But more than that, I’m so honored to have been blessed with his presence in my life.

Thank you for shining your light on us, Doug.  May you fly high and bright and always shine on in our hearts.

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Cousin Doug, Rob, and I having fun at Slide Rock

Costa Rican Holiday

Costa Rican Holiday

I just returned from 10 blissful days in Costa Rica.  I can’t quite escape the feeling that somehow I have gotten away with something – that having thumbed my nose at convention, I slammed the door shut on the all the holiday happenings, the excessive consumerism, the oppressive obligation, and the general seasonal stress.

If I sound like a bit of a Grinch, I confess that I probably am.  I think part of it probably has to do with the fact that I’ve never been able to recapture that magical feeling that Christmas had when I was a kid.  But this year, as I sat on an endless black sand beach, feeling the warm air surround me, and seeing the green vegetation teeming with life, I felt a different kind of magic.  It was a bit like my own personal Whoville, and my heart felt like it grew three sizes in its lush, tropical landscape.

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Christmas day in Cahuita

Over the past few years, I have been finding the northern winters increasingly hard to tolerate.  I can feel myself wither and withdraw under the lack of sun and color. So, needless to say, starting the winter in Costa Rica was a great way begin the season.

We stayed in Cahuita, a fairly small town on the Caribbean coast.  The eastern side of Costa Rica is the rainy side, which may be why more tourists usually flock to the Pacific coast on the western, drier side.

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Arriving in Cahuita

We rented a small, rustic cabin right across from the beach, and only a short walk to Parque Nacional Cahuita.  The park itself has a very accessible 9km coastal trail, where you can stop along soft white sand beaches to swim in perfect turquoise water, or become entranced with the incredible amount of plants and animals that abound.  I couldn’t believe all the wildlife we saw!

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Howler monkey in Parque Nacional Cahuita. Those guys are LOUD!

Now, I have returned to the sleepy winter woods of New England.  A new year is here.  I have mixed feelings about this.  I guess it’s a time to think about what I want to take with me as I move forward into the winter, and into the year ahead.

It seems that with each passing year, I become more concerned about the future of our planet – over-population, unsustainable consumption of resources, habitat destruction, loss of wildlife, and of course, global warming.  I don’t mean to sound like a Debbie Downer, but these are the concerns of our time, and yet, not enough people seem concerned.

Costa Rica is known for its “green” reputation, but even there, development, habitat loss, and hunting/poaching have threatened much of its verdant jungle.  Some of its wild inhabitants are endangered, or even considered extinct in some regions.  As amazing and relaxing as my trip was, I couldn’t help but feel a sadness at the loss this magical place has already endured.

With all that said, as we enter 2017, I look forward to savoring the life that surrounds us, wherever I may find myself.  I will continue to strive to treat all living beings with honor and respect, knowing that they all have an important place in our ecosystem.  I will continue to look for ways to help those living beings who have no voice, so that we may all move forward in this uncertain world, together.

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Our cabin in Cahuita

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Playa Negra across from our cabin

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A mangrove black-hawk (I think)

A momma and baby sloth right across from our cabin. If you look closely, you can see the baby's snout peaking out from underneath mom's belly.

A mama and baby sloth right across from our cabin. If you look closely, you can see the baby’s snout peaking out from underneath mom’s belly.

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A coati in Parque Nacional Cahuita

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Howler monkeys having a snack

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White sand beach in Parque Nacional Cahuita

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Great white egret

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An agouti in Parque Nacional Cahuita

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Frosty got a make-over

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Some friends I met on the beach

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Wandering beauties

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In Parque Nacional Cahuita

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Another friend in Parque Nacional Cahuita

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Sleeping beauty in Parque Nacional Cahuita

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Boat-billed fly catcher at Playa Negra

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Biking in Cahuita

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Reminders of what matters

Like many of us, my mind has been reeling since the election.  I won’t go into it all here, but suffice it to say that a whirlwind of thoughts and emotions have been racing through me – sadness and concern being chief among them.

I have always carried a grave concern about the future of our planet, and there is no question that my concern has been magnified considerably.  But, as the days press on, I know that the sun continues to rise, and that nature persists.  Even if it changes radically (which it ultimately will over hundreds, thousands, and millions of years), it will likely still exist in some manner.  The fact of the matter is, nothing stays the same.  And even when things appear completely decimated, something finds a ways to grow.

I can’t help but think about areas that are ravaged by wildfire.  Everything seems lost, but it is amazing how quickly things start to regenerate.  Seeds that have been hiding in the ground waiting for their chance to grow, begin to sprout.  As devastating as the destruction seems, life finds a way to return.

Spending time in nature is definitely my go-to for self care and healing, and it has certainly helped me through the last few days.  I watch as animals continue their routines, unaware of politics, but fully in tune with their surroundings.  I have to admit, I envy them.  But I am also grateful for the reminders they give me: to connect with what matters most to me, to be present in this moment, to remember that nothing stays the same, and to know that even when destruction lies in front of us, all is not lost.

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I came across this peace sign while hiking in California.  A simple and wonderful message.

 

The Golden Umbrella

The Golden Umbrella

As far as days go, they don’t get any better than today.  The foliage is at the peak of its kaleidoscopic grandeur, and the weather has been perfectly sublime.

When I stepped out the door this morning, I gasped in awe at the golden umbrella arching over my driveway, glowing warmly in the early sun.  And I asked myself, “How could this beautiful place possibly be my home?  How did I get so lucky?”

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The Golden Umbrella

But I must confess, I gripe constantly about the work involved with owning a home. Something always needs to be fixed, cleaned, or tended, which (as any homeowner knows) takes a considerable amount of time.  I pine for the days of my 20s, when renting a room or studio apartment afforded me plenty of free time to do things on the weekend.

But as I was driving to my job this morning, I came to thinking  of the good ol’ days, and I kind of realized that maybe they weren’t all they cracked up to be.  Sure, maybe I didn’t have to mow the lawn or fix the gutters, but I wasn’t really any happier.  In fact, I think I was much less happy than  I am now.

I think about my life now vs. then, and I realize that I have created an amazing place for myself in the world.  I have a job that I like, a warm and cozy home in a beautiful location, and friends and loved ones to spend time with.  Are things perfect?  No.  But they are pretty damn good.

There is nothing like the brief brilliance of autumn to remind you to be present in the moment.  It’s easy to get caught up in longing for days gone by, or to look forward to things yet to come.  But this moment – this fleeting moment – is the one that matters most.  Like the ephemeral flourish of fall, we just have to be present to appreciate it.

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My little house on the hill

 

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Monkshood out in one of the flower beds

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My favorite place for a nap

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A lovely “volunteer” blueberry bush

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Sister Golden Hair

 

 

Saying Goodbye Too Soon

Saying Goodbye Too Soon

I am absolutely grief stricken.  Today I found out that my beloved fox friend, Daryl, was senselessly shot and killed.

Daryl was found as an orphaned baby with his eyes barely open, and he had been lovingly cared for at Medicine Mammals wildlife rehabilitation facility until his release a few weeks ago.

Daryl was 5 months old, and he was still learning the ropes of being on his own, and he could sometimes still be seen hanging around Medicine Mammals.  He loved to “help” the volunteers, and he would run in giddy circles around me as I made the rounds to feed the animals.  Of course, I’d wind up stopping to play with him, sometimes even getting down on all fours to romp around.  Those moments were magical, as I could see the spark of pure joy in his eyes,  and feel the exuberance of life in his soul.

I had especially been looking forward to seeing him when I arrived today.  When I got the news, I was just devastated.

I fed and watered the animals in a daze.  There was no gleeful friend to accompany me, no silly fox grin, no soft light making his fur glow.  And there never will be again.

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Daryl giving a playful love bite to Loril.  (His love bites did not hurt.)

While I took care of the animals, a new patient arrived – a baby raccoon with a badly infected face.  His eyes, unrecognizable as eyes, were gummed over black thumbprints, and his nose was glazed over and festering, making breathing almost impossible.  He had a puncture wound on the top of his nose, and smelled of dying flesh.

Loril, the director, gave him some painkiller and I helped to retrieve some other medicines.  But ultimately, Loril decided that she needed the help of a vet.

I drove as she held the poor suffering baby, and with each mile and each minute, it became clearer that the raccoon needed our help to transition to the other side.  And so, once at the vet’s, we spent the last few moments of this young raccoon’s life holding him, loving him, and honoring him.

So, death came to my doorstep twice today – once as a senseless killing, and once filled with suffering.  What do I do with this?  How do I come to terms with it?  For death is certainly a part of life, and suffering is universal.

When I think of Daryl, I feel beside myself with grief, flush with anger, and hollow with disbelief all at the same time.  But when I reach beyond that, I know that more than anything, I want to honor the sweet, curious, playful spirit that he was.

May we remember that we are not the only ones here on this earth.  Each and every living being is beautiful and sacred, and deserves to be honored with love and respect.

Rest in peace, dear Daryl.  Be at peace, little raccoon.  I hold you in my heart.

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