Creatures of Habit

Nearly every afternoon, a flock of turkeys comes through my yard.  Today, they arrived around 3:40, emerging from the woods in a tidy single file line, like a group of school children.

There are 9 of them now, down from the original 14 that I counted over the summer.  But they are a healthy and robust crew, and it’s always a pleasure to watch them scrape and scramble eastward through the yard.  Turkeys travel one to two miles a day, and I feel honored to be part of their route.

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There is always one tom that keeps an eye out as the others forage.  My cat, Buster, and I both angle for a better view of them scratching and pecking their way to the garden.  Buster jumps quietly onto the big rock outcropping, as I sip my afternoon coffee from the deck.

The turkeys seem to love feasting in the garden.  With plenty of worms, bugs, and tender greens, who could blame them?  I don’t mind that they help themselves to the raspberries – pecking them right off the bush – because it’s just so enjoyable to watch them.  Overall, I’m pretty generous when it comes to sharing my garden bounty with wildlife.  After all, they can’t just go to a supermarket and I can.

Buster slinks over to the garden and hides behind a curtain of leeks as the turkeys totter to the far edge of the yard.  I watch, amused, as they flap their wings awkwardly and shuffle away, clucking all the way  Turkeys actually have 28 unique vocalizations, each with their own meaning, but I admittedly have yet to distinguish more than a few.

I can’t help but think of their domesticated counterparts, who will be spread – fattened and roasted – on tables across the nation in a couple of short weeks.

I live a short distance away from a farm that raises turkeys and I can occasionally hear them gobbling across the Millers River valley.  I feel sad knowing that their lives are coming to and end soon, but I am grateful for the sustenance they will provide.

As for the wild winged crew that saunters through my yard each day, I hope they continue to roam and wander freely for many days to come.

 

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Spirit and Place

It’s peak foliage season here in Western Mass.  The weather has been spectacular, with striking blue skies and streams of sunlight pouring through the fiery foliage.  Leaves appear to glow,  They rattle and rustle as if in a shamanic trance.  And then they rain down, like gold coins, spreading a wealth of riches on the forest floor.

I’ve always thought that fall foliage is nature’s fireworks display.  It starts slowly – a burst of orange and red here and there, until it rises into a crescendo of color – a stunning grand finale to celebrate the end of the growing season.

The leaf peepers are out en masse.  But not me.  I’m not going anywhere.  I don’t need to.  There is more beauty surrounding my house than I could possibly absorb, and to be honest, it feels good to appreciate what is right in front of me.

I’ve particularly been admiring the way the afternoon sun falls on the rock ledge behind my house.  The stand of white birches in front of the ledge has such poise and grace.  And all along the edges of the yard, sassafras saplings are turning a brilliant shade of yellowy orangish red – three types of leaves aflame on a long, slender wick.  That’s right: sassafras trees have three distinct leaf shapes – one that looks like a classic leaf shape, one that looks like a mitten, and one that looks like a ghost.  The all have the same lemony-citrus scent.

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I harvested dried beans from my garden today, shucking them from their shells and running my hands through the cool, smooth pile of small stones as they accumulated in my basket.  I looked at my hands as the beans sifted through them, thinking about the work they have done, the food they’ve sown and reaped, and their connection to this land.

I’ve come to realize that a relationship with the land is a lot like a romantic relationship.  When you first see a place of beauty, you are in awe.  You get excited, you want to take a picture, and to preserve it in your memory forever.  But eventually you move on to the next scenic vista.

However, the longer you sit with a place, the deeper your connection becomes.  And when you work with the land – tend it, care for it, honor it – that connection becomes deeper still.

Like any relationship, it’s not always easy.  I think about the countless hours I’ve spent toiling and tending to my little corner of the world, but no place fills me with such a sense of fulfillment and gratitude.

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Autumn is such an ephemeral time, and it seems to be a reminder of the Impermanence of Everything.  While spring brings the promise of life, autumn brings the reminder that all things are fleeting, and must, someday, die.

Today, I found out that an important person in my life passed away.  Although we hadn’t been in close contact for many years, Skip was one of those rare people whose impact lasts a lifetime.  He was a mentor who guided me as I began my journey as a seeker of truth, love, and the great Mysteries of Life.  I am not filled with sadness at the news of his death, but a sense of poignancy and gratitude at the light he shone on the world, and the fact that I was lucky enough to have it shine on me.

Perhaps it is the fleeting nature of autumn that makes it such a natural time for reflection and appreciation.  We see life around us slowing down and letting go – a tender release, like a pensive sigh.  There is a sadness there, but also relief.  Just as the trees shed their leaves, perhaps we have a chance to let go of some of our own burden.  And in letting go, we too, may receive the gift of rest.

In loving memory
Skip Weatherford, 1933-2017

The Sacredness of Life

It’s been a challenging week.  I’ve been struggling to go at a pace that my body doesn’t like.

Meanwhile, life around me is slowing down.  The leaves are starting to fall, the garden is winding down, and even the weeds seem to have stopped growing.  The days are getting shorter, animals are preparing for winter, and there is less energy all around.   Mother Nature is getting ready for the long winter’s rest ahead.  So why shouldn’t I?

Autumn is perhaps the most poignant season, in my opinion.  These crisp, sweet days remind us of less complicated times, as we try to savor the fleeting burst of color across the landscape.  Things around us are going dormant or dying, leaving behind a quiet and familiar melancholy.

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It’s hard to accept things dying, even when it’s part of nature’s flow.  It’s even harder to accept when it seems that there is no reason for it.

This past week, a deer was brought to the wildlife rehabilitation facility I volunteer at.  It had been hit by a car; its back was broken and one of its legs was broken and bent in an unnatural direction.  It had only been there a short while before I arrived, but already an animal control officer was arriving to take it away and alleviate it’s suffering.

The deer cried piteously as it was carried away in a blanket.   It was loaded into the back of a truck, and there it lay – helpless as it suffered through its last moments of life on earth.

Why should any creature suffer so needlessly?  That is, without a doubt, one of the great mysteries of life.

After the injured deer was carried away, I went to feed the two remaining fawns.  I was so struck by their beauty and fragility as they sucked at the bottles of milk with the golden autumn sunlight flashing in their eyes, on their long, lovely lashes, and on their coarse, tawny hair.

Coming face to face with suffering is very difficult, but it makes the Sacredness of Life all the more evident.  It gives me the urge to  care for my earth-home and cherish my fellow living beings.  The grass, the ferns, the squirrels, the oaks, the rivers, the turkeys, the beetles, the moths, the coyotes, the rabbits, the pines, the soil, the blue jays, the bumblebees, and everything else that is a part of this living, breathing world – I offer my tender gratitude to you.

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Two Minutes of Nature

The work day is over, and I just looked up from my computer and found myself strangely startled by how beautiful it is out.  It’s amazing how detached I can feel from nature while I’m “plugged in”, clicking away at my computer keyboard.  But all it takes is two minutes of observation to bring me back to feeling more centered and connected with reality.  Here’s what I just noticed:

  • The magical, golden evening sunlight streaming through the trees
  • A Daddy Long Legs striding confidently across the patio
  • An inch worm slowly making its way across a stone wall
  • A bumble bee hovering over the miniature forest of creeping thyme
  • The first red tinges of autumn on the maples, glowing fiercely in the sun
  • The warm golds and auburns of the garden mums
  • The soft greens of the ferns
  • The sweet song of evening crickets and one very vocal chipmunk

I especially love observing the small, the overlooked, and what some would consider to be the “commonplace.”  They are all miracles of nature, after all.

What can you observe in two minutes?

The deeper we look into nature, the more we recognize that it is full of life, and the more profoundly we know that all life is a secret and that we are united with all life that is in nature. – Albert Schweitzer

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I Saved a Life Today

I found a shivering, half submerged mouse in my toilet bowl today.  From the look of things, I’m guessing it had been there for an hour or two.  It probably had struggled futilely to scramble out, and then given up, too scared and cold to keep fighting.

I pulled it out with a container and patted it gently with a towel, trying to dry its soaked, matted fur.  I sat with it and tried to comfort it as best as I could.  Then I put the mouse in a small box with my heating pad and some towels.  The mouse curled up with dim eyes, like the life essence was leaving its tiny little body.

About an hour later, I opened the box, and the mouse scurried under the heating pad.  Further investigation revealed that it had dried off and I could see the Light of Life in its eyes once more.  I took the box outside (away from the house!) and the mouse scampered hurriedly away.

I don’t know if the mouse will survive, but I do know that nothing deserves to die alone and cold in a toilet bowl.

An hour or two after the mouse episode, I was watching some wild turkeys in my yard.  They had been there for hours, and a few of them were laying down in some dried leaves by the edge of my yard while the others foraged for food.

The turkeys come through the yard pretty much every day.  There used to be thirteen, but I only counted eleven today.  Furthermore, I noticed that one had sustained an injury and was hopping lamely on one leg.  My guess is that a predator took a couple of the birds, and that the injured one had narrowly escaped.

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Turkeys in the yard

I felt sad watching the injured turkey, because I know that in all likelihood, it won’t survive.  I watched it foraging, and I held a deep love and appreciation for it, its beauty, and the knowledge that it will become sustenance for another living creature.

As someone who is involved with wildlife rehabilitation, it can be hard to know when to step in, and when to let nature take its course.  Did I have an urge to help that turkey?  Of course.  Why did I help the mouse and not the turkey?  Well, for one thing, I probably couldn’t catch that turkey even if I tried, and it probably would have done more damage than good anyway.

I know I can’t save everything.  I have seen and will continue to see animals suffer and die.  It is painful, especially when it is the result of human activity (e.g., when an animal is hit by a car).  Yet, it is also poignant, and in Nature, nothing ever goes to waste.

It is my Life’s Work to strive to honor and respect all living things.  In a human-centric world, I feel a personal calling to rejoice in the value and sacredness of our fellow living beings.  All living things have significance and play an important role in the great web of life.

I’ve been having a lazy day today, and found myself feeling guilty for not accomplishing more. But then I thought to myself, “I saved a life today.”  Today, I looked into the eyes of another living creature, and saw the gift of life.  Today, I watched butterflies feed on miraculous garden blooms and listened appreciatively to the wind in the trees.  Today, I felt the preciousness of each moment as I watched a flock of turkeys.  Maybe that’s enough.

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Admitting Defeat

Admitting Defeat

I’m sitting overlooking South Pond at Savoy State Forest.  I came for a two-night getaway at one of their CCC-built cabins, but I decided to pack up a day early and head home.  The weather is crappy, I’m not feeling well, and if I’m being totally honest with myself, I’d rather just be home. So, I guess I’m admitting defeat.

I’m disappointed that my trip wasn’t the rejuvenating, nature-filled mini-retreat I had imagined. Instead, it feels difficult and like I’m struggling against things.

Frankly, I’m tired of struggling against things.  I’m tired of being tired, and I feel burdened with a chronically ill body that experiences constant fatigue and pain.

But, what if, rather than feeling like pain and fatigue was a burden, I could see it as a blessing?  What if, rather than admitting defeat, I opened my heart to honor my truth?  And maybe sometimes that truth is being balls-out pissed that I feel shitty.  I’d rather just be honest with myself than struggle through the motions.

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Bog Pond, Savoy State Forest

It’s a constant learning, and if I’m open to it, it can be a blessing.  For instance, I now have a better understanding of how to say no, to push toxic people and situations out of my life, to protect my time and energy, and to detach myself from other people’s drama.

So, my trip didn’t turn out the way I wanted it to, but maybe I got exactly what I needed.

There is a calm in the steady rainfall and in the misty white shroud clinging to the hills.  The wind is blowing across the water, and it doesn’t resist; it simply flows.  The hemlock boughs are heavy with rain drops, and there is a gentle patter and rustle of wind and water through the oaks.

I saw a few newts and frogs hanging out as the pond lapped lazily at the shore. They didn’t seem to be bothered by the inclement weather one bit.  They just continued to do their respective newt and frog thing.

There is always struggle and suffering in nature.  But there is also balance and harmony.  Ecologically speaking, we know what happens when that balance gets disturbed. Often times, we continue to disturb it anyway.  But in disregarding Nature’s Truth, we create a situation that’s unsustainable.

I am a living being, and I am not exempt from this truth. At times, I will struggle and suffer, and if I choose to disregard my own balance, there will be consequences.  So today I choose to listen to my own truth.  And as I listen to the softly falling rain and head home to rest in my own bed, I hear the song of Divine Harmony.

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Rainy day waterfall

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Tannery Falls, Savoy State Forest

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A beaver pond in Savoy State Forest

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Fungus Flowers!

Summer Solstice

I’m finally relaxing after a long, draining day – and wouldn’t you know?  It’s absolutely beautiful out!  Actually, perfect is the word that comes to mind.  The temperature is just right.  A refreshing breeze dances through the treetops.  The sky is heavenly-blue with just the slightest wisp of white lazily drifting by.  The chipmunks are bolding claiming their territory, seemingly popping out of every nook and cranny.  I’ve just picked a bountiful load of peas and strawberries from the garden.  And flowers are bursting into bloom everywhere.

The mountain laurel alone is something to celebrate.  The hillside is positively glowing with the sweet blossoms like delightful pink-white candies.  I feel like a kid in a candy store just looking at it!

I admit, I am sad to see spring go.  After all, it is my favorite season.  But as we enter this sacred season of exuberance and abundance, I offer my heart in gratitude.  Let this soak in.  Let me savor every moment.

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Mountain laurel blossoms that look sweet enough to eat!

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Garden beauties