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_web_lg

Eastern Phoebe

Starlight

stars1

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

fullmoon

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.

sliderock

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.

dsc09033

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.

dsc08804

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!

dsc09115

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.

dsc09274

Our cabin in Cahuita

dsc08807

Playa Negra across from our cabin

dsc09142

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.

dsc09133

A coati in Parque Nacional Cahuita

dsc09104

Howler monkeys having a snack

dsc09098

White sand beach in Parque Nacional Cahuita

dsc09089

Great white egret

dsc09076

An agouti in Parque Nacional Cahuita

dsc09061

Frosty got a make-over

dsc09054

Some friends I met on the beach

dsc09025

dsc09016

Wandering beauties

dsc08955

In Parque Nacional Cahuita

dsc08923

Another friend in Parque Nacional Cahuita

dsc08892

Sleeping beauty in Parque Nacional Cahuita

dsc08852

dsc08808

Boat-billed fly catcher at Playa Negra

img_9529

Biking in Cahuita

img_9435

 

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.

dsc08363

dsc08418dsc08424dsc08435dsc08469dsc08347-1

dsc08478

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