Raccoon Rescue: Departures and Arrivals

Whew!  What a day!

As some of you know, I volunteer on Tuesdays at a wildlife rehab facility.  Today, we released 3 of the raccoons that we have raised for the past year.   Loaded up in cages in the back of the van, we drove them out to a carefully selected site.  My heart went out to them as I could hear them scratching frantically at the cages, desperate to get out.  Poor babies!

Fortunately, their distress was short lived, and well worth the end result: freedom.  As we opened the cages, my heart soared at seeing these amazing animals being returned to their true home in the wild.  This is where they belong.  Never has anything been more obvious, more naturally beautiful and right.  They were so happy, so free, so wild, so gleeful and excited.  We watched as they explored their new surroundings – climbing trees, scrambling over rocks, drinking from a stream, taking in all the sights, sounds, and scents.  At last, it came time to say goodbye, but it was with full heart, knowing that these friends were finally home.


The gateway to freedom!

Back in the van, we had one more stop: to the vet with our porcupine friend, Lucille.  Now, I am here to tell you that taking a porcupine to the vet is no easy task.  I carried the cage in and set it down on the table, where we proceeded to throw a blanket over her, lift her out, and hold her down – all while wearing reeeeallly thick gloves.

Lucille was hit and dragged by a plow back in December.  The fur and quills on her back were completely scraped off, and she has appeared to have some issues with her eye sight.  Thankfully, her quills and fur have been growing back quite nicely, but we haven’t been too sure about her eyes.  Unfortunately, the vet confirmed that Lucille is blind.  We are not sure what we can do for her eyes to restore vision, but we will try to help her as best we can.

After our trip to the vet, it was time to feed our new arrivals: 6 baby raccoons.  These are from 2 separate litters.  In one family, the mother was relocated without realizing there were babies. In the other family, the mother was killed by an exterminator (which, unfortunately, is a standard practice).

The babies arrived just a couple weeks old, with their eyes still shut, and grieving for their mother.   Needless to say, they need a lot of love and care (which they are getting)!  Right now, they are only about 6 to 8 inches long, but you wouldn’t believe the racket they can make!  And of course, they are cute beyond words!

Now the day is done, and I’m completely worn out.  I’m out on my patio listening to the song of the whippoorwill and the yapping of coyotes, thinking about the cycle of life and how it goes on and on.   We are born, we get older, and eventually, we all go free.  This is the way of the world, and the Divine Harmony of Life.


Home at last


Free and wild


Going to take a drink!


The view is great from up here!


A bouquet of babies


Time for feeding


Snuggle time!







Birthday Adventure

April 21, 2017

Today, I am honoring myself.  It is my 40th birthday and I am spending it outdoors in the wilderness of Guadalupe Mountains National Park in Texas.  I can think of no better way to celebrate than by reveling in the wonders of the natural world.  I cannot think of anywhere else that I would feel such a sense of peace and connection with the grand web of life – a connection which particularly bears reflecting on as I look back on my own life these past 40 years.

Guadalupe Mountains National Park is in west Texas, and it appears that most people haven’t heard of it.  As a result, it is less trodden than some of our other national parks, but that certainly is not due to a lack of beauty.

In fact, these mountains are more spectacular than I could have possibly ever imagined,  I’m generally not drawn to desert climates, but I am completely enchanted with the rugged beauty of this landscape.  These mountains rise up out of the desert with such strength and force, and they seem to be alive and breathing with the wisdom of the millennia.

I am also surprised by the incredible diversity of plant life here and the amazing array of textures.  I am enthralled by the tender leaves of the maples and oaks, and I love seeing them juxtaposed against the spiny desert plants.  And the wildflowers are just incredible!  You wouldn’t believe how many different kinds and colors there are!  You simply have to take the time to notice.

I love being exposed to so many different and unfamiliar living things.  I feel as though I am meeting many new friends, all of whom are helping to ring is this new year and new decade.

Here are some pictures from my week long camping trip, including a day excursion to Carlsbad Caverns National Park.  Enjoy!


Birthday hike! 





A jackrabbit


A rattlesnake! (Rob zoomed in with his phone to take this photo.)




Blooming prickly pear cactus



Hiking on a chilly day.  Daytime temps were between the 60s and the 80s.


Sunrise in the Chihuahuan desert





Draperies in Carlsbad Caverns National Park


Carlsbad Caverns National Park


“Mirror Lake”


These formations reminded me of long slender trees 

Spring: The Most Sensory Season

At last!  Spring is here!  The air is alive with birdsong and the warm glow of the sun. The phoebes are back and are diligently working on their nests, a squirrel is chattering on the branch of an old oak, and a newly emerged chipmunk darts in and out of a stone wall like a beachgoer carefully dipping his toe to test the water. (Come on in!  The water’s fine!)  Everyone seems to be feeling a sense of energy and excitement.

I don’t know if it’s just my imagination, but even the bare branches and dried out remnants of last year’s growth seem cheerful today.  The sweet fern with old leaves like curled up claws, the mountain laurel with the kernels of last year’s blossoms, the wild blueberries with tiny buds less than 3 mm long – they all seem filled with the potential of great things to come.

To me, there is no season that fills the senses as much as spring does.  My soul is thirsty for the sight and fragrance of new growth.  And when I listen to the music of nature’s song, I hear it, not simply with my ears, but with my whole heart.  To quote Aldo Leopold, it is “a vast pulsing harmony – its notes the lives and deaths of plants and animals, its rhythms spanning the seconds and the centuries.”  It is the music of the ages, and of life itself.


Eastern Phoebe



I have a skylight above my bed.  It’s my own rectangular slice of of sky.  I usually wake up many times during the night, and each time I see a slightly different configuration of stars winking at me, keeping me company as I lay awake in the dark, quiet night.  Sometimes I fall back asleep right away, and other times I lay there watching as the sky slowly shifts with the earth’s rotation.

Today, I went for a hike with a friend, and I found myself talking about people who have touched my life in some way.  I am talking specifically about people who are, for all intents and purposes, no longer in my day to day life.  Some of them are old friends, and some are people who may have just passed through my life for a day, an hour, or just a moment.  Some of them I am friends with on Facebook, and some have vanished from my life for ever.  But I am grateful for all of them.

It’s funny how just even a small interaction can impact a life.  I have thought many, many times about a man who was standing in line in front of me when my mom took me to get an ice cream cone when I was five.  I think I was telling my mom what flavor I wanted, when suddenly the man turned around and exclaimed jubilantly, “I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream!”  I was a very timid child, and I’m sure I must’ve appeared very shy and nervous, but for some reason, that gleeful gesture touched me in an inexplicable way, and made me feel a little better about the world, even at the tender age of five.

In some way, it pains me that these people are no longer a part of my life.  But they ARE still a part of my life, and their very presence in my life, at whatever point, is something that still fills me with gratitude. They are still giving to me, even though they, themselves are gone.  As I said to my friend, these people are like stars.  Even though their presence in my life may have burned out, their light continues to shine on.

Insomnia can be a troubling thing.  It can very easily snowball into anxiety and panic, (“How am I going to function tomorrow if I can’t sleep?!”)  I try as best as I can to stay calm in these moments.  But now, as I lay awake watching the stars through my skylight, I will think happily of them as all the people who have blessed my life with their presence.  And as I count each winking star, I will count my blessings.





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


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.


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