Going backwards into Summer

Going backwards into Summer

Summer is here! I went for a paddle on Laurel Lake in Erving with a neighbor this evening, which was a great way to ring in this vibrant season.

As I started paddling, I found myself veering off in a weird and unexpected direction, unable to control myself.  It took me a few seconds before I realized that I was on my paddle board backwards.  I laughed and said, “Well, that basically sums up the way my day has been.  What a metaphor for life!”  It was funny because it was true. I really did feel like I was going backwards today, and most certainly did NOT feel in control.

I love these little moments of wisdom in life, and it’s especially great when they make you laugh.  Let’s face it.  We all have days like this – heading in an unexpected direction, or feeling fear or frustration when we seem to be going backwards instead of forwards.  Hey, it happens.  But, eventually, we straighten ourselves out and move ahead through the calm, clear waters.

Being out on the lake was so peaceful and serene.  The mountain laurel is in bloom all along the shore line, and it looks like little while and pink candies dotting the dark green foliage.   A loon was swimming at one end of the lake, and watching it dive under the water inspired me to do the same.  The water was so sweet and cool, like liquid velvet gliding across my skin.

I’m excited for summer.  Even if I find myself veering unexpectedly, out of control, or going backwards, I know I can always depend on the gentle magic of nature to set me straight.

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Pink and white candy blooms of mountain laurel

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Yours truly on Laurel Lake

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Innocence Regained

The other day I saw a puddle on the pavement that was mixed with gasoline leaked from a car. It looked like a big, swirly iridescent rainbow.

I remember seeing these kinds of puddles when I was a kid, and feeling a great sense of delight as I exclaimed, “Look, Mom! A rainbow!”

And so, we go from childhood to adulthood. The simple things that delighted us become weighted by knowledge and reality. A pretty puddle that once made me happy now makes me sad, as I think about the toxins entering our watersheds and harming our wildlife.

The loss of innocence can feel devastating, even if it’s just the happiness we felt at something seemingly so small. But the Season of Spring is a time when innocence is regained. Tender green growth is all around us, flowers bloom in a myriad of hues, birds sing out with clear, sweet voices, and animals give new life to their precious young.

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Yesterday, Rob and I watched two juvenile squirrels running up and down a hollowed out tree. It looked like they were playing hide and seek as they darted in and out of different cavities in the tree trunk. And in that moment, I felt that same pure delight I did as a child.

Childhood is a time of innocence, growth, and learning. But maybe adulthood is too, in its own way. It is a time when we get the opportunity to consciously welcome all the experiences and feelings we encounter in life – sadness, excitement, anger, elation, confusion, wonder. What will we find on our journey? And how will we greet it?

Today I greet the world with a mix of exhaustion, wonder, and perhaps a little sadness. These feelings seem like friends visiting me – like the pair of mourning doves in the garden this morning, or the cheerful goldfinches sitting on the telephone line. They are the gifts of adult life, and they are welcome here.

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Smoky Mountain Birthday

Smoky Mountain Birthday

It’s my birthday!  And that means it’s time for my annual birthday blog post.  This year, I’m spending it in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, where we are camping and hiking for several days.

Our campsite is right on the Little River at Elkmont Campground, and apparently, we lucked out by getting what veteran campers here refer to as “the primo site” (Site F8, if you happen to be going there).  And I can see why!  It’s private, quiet, and absolutely stunning.

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Having a cup of coffee steam-side at the campsite on the morning of my birthday – it doesn’t get much better than that!

Spring has sprung here, with tender green leaves unfolding with each passing moment and wildflowers covering the forest floor like sweet, delicate confetti, helping me to celebrate what it means to be alive.

At this moment, I am sitting at the edge of a mountain stream, watching the water tumble over a huge heap of rocks and boulders.  I can’t help but wonder how long this seemingly endless gush has been going on for and how long it will last – a course gradually changing over time.  A rhododendron bush is growing out of a crack in a boulder in an audacious attempt to survive.  A little further upstream, a fallen tree rots, giving life to moss, ferns, and other plants.  Butterflies and other insects zip about, full of mystery and wonder.

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Stopping along a mountain stream

Spring is the time when the miracles of life are most apparent to me, including my own.  I feel so lucky to be alive and experiencing this immensely beautiful world.  I find gentle reassurance in the life pushing forward around me.  But I also find quiet reassurance in the death and decay.

As I push forward in my own life’s journey, I find myself more willing to greet the varying experiences I find there, knowing with a calm heart that my journey, like all others, will someday end.  In the meantime, it continues flowing, changing course along the way.  And hopefully, the banks will continue to be rich and resplendent, with many places to stop for quiet reflection and perhaps an occasional refreshing swim!

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The “Walker Sisters Place” – an old homestead from the 1800s, where 5 self-reliant sisters lived until the last one passed away in 1964.

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Pamela, one of my oldest and dearest friends, came to visit for a day hike with her husband, Bryan. Here we are in front of the Walker Sisters Place!

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The view from Mount LeConte

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The lovely view of Little River from our “primo” campsite

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Happy Birthday to me!

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If you like abandoned buildings and ruins, then you will LOVE the area of Elkmont, which was a thriving vacation community in the 30s.  Many of the cabins there have been torn down, but many are still standing and in various states of disrepair.  You could easily spend hours exploring their spooky interiors and imagining what they used to be like.

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We saw a trillion trilliums!

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Birthday hike through Cucumber Gap

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A magical birthday rainbow – or perhaps a Laura Aura!

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Forest fairy land

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A lovely waterfall along our hike

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A carpet of wildflowers

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One of many mountain streams 

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Dwarf violet irises after a rain

The In-between

The In-between

It’s that time of year when the days can seem to drone on in an endless blur of grey and brown, chilly and damp.  Maybe a blanket of powdery white waits for an opportune moment to drape itself over the landscape one last time.  Or perhaps the sky might break into a brilliant blue, and the warmth of the sun will set to stirring signs of life and renewal.

This is the In-between, a time between times.  We have nearly completed our long journey though winter, but have not yet experienced the joyous beauty of Spring.

I have been thinking a lot about my friend, Karen, who passed away last week.  Karen had been in hospice for several weeks, and she faced her transition to the other side with incredible grace and wisdom.

It seemed clear to me that Karen wanted to live, and I think there was part of her that still wanted to believe that could happen.  And yet, at the same time, she seemed at peace knowing that her time to leave was drawing near, and she did not fear death.

Talking to Karen was always very easy.  Throughout the 17 or 18 years that I knew her, we both had many ups and downs, and I was always impressed and inspired by the amount of insight she had as we continued rolling and bumping along through life’s journey.

During my last visits and communications with her, we talked very openly about her death.  It was so natural, and as always during our friendship, I was so appreciative of her authenticity.

One of the things we spoke about was reincarnation.  Karen was a very spiritual person, and we shared similar views on this topic.  Of course, the basic premise of reincarnation is that, after we die, our souls are born again into another being.  But she wondered what happened after death but before your soul entered another body.  What was in the In-between? We speculated about a place of love and light, perhaps where souls gather and reconnect.  Then Karen said that she was going to try to get in touch once she reached the other side, to give us some insight into what it was like.  She followed this by saying, “But I’ll try not to do it in a spooky way, like when it’s dark out.”  I laughed a deep laugh, full of love and appreciation.

That was so Karen.  She was always trying to help others and make them comfortable.  Even if it was from the other side.

In the wake of Karen’s passing, I find myself facing my own In-between.  Along with the In-between of the seasons, I am moving forward to the In-between of jobs.  And, of course, I continue to struggle though the In-between of my own illness and health.

Uncertainty is not comfortable.  But when I think about Karen moving forward in her journey wth serenity and courage, it inspires me and makes things feel a little more okay.  And it helps to know that soon, our time between times will become Spring once more, and life again will be tender and new.

I will miss Karen deeply, but I am so grateful for the remarkable light she shone on the world.  Her special kindness, wisdom, and caring was a gift she gave to all who knew her.  I wish her much love and happiness as she continues on in her journey, though the beautiful In-between of love and light, and beyond.

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Dear friends at my 24th birthday party in 2001. Karen is seated to the left looking peaceful and lovely as ever.

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The amazing women in my life.  We are apparently so in sync that we even color coordinate by accident!  (Karen is to the left)

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My 40th birthday party this past year.  I was so touched by my friends who came from near and far to be with me.  Karen is seated 2nd to the left next to our dear friend, Michele.

Welcoming Winter

Welcoming Winter

I have a confession to make.  I have been dreading winter since the last dreamy, verdant weeks of summer.  But as summer turned to autumn and then autumn to winter, I have found myself befriending the cold, quiet days and the long, dark nights.  The air feels crisp and invigorating on my face during my contemplative wanderings through the woods.  There is a stillness that fills the forest, which I find peaceful and soothing, and the early nightfall gives me permission to rest and relax.

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A winter landscape as seen through my living room window

Winter seems to have arrived well before solstice this year, and we’ve been enjoying a tranquil frosted landscape here in western Massachusetts. By the time solstice rolled around, I found myself ready – and perhaps even slightly eager – to embrace the ups and downs of the season.  My attitude about winter surprised me, given the level of dread and loathing I previously felt.  However, there is wisdom in nature – even the parts we don’t favor – and that feels too precious a gift to squander.

On the first day of winter, I saw a truck strike a wild turkey while I was on my way to work.  It tottered across the road while the traffic kept moving.  I slowed to a stop on the side of the road where the turkey piteously hobbled to the shoulder and collapsed face down into a snow bank.

I grabbed a blanket from my car and slowly approached the turkey, arms outstretched, and gently wrapped it up and put it in my car.  My initial thought was that I would contact a wildlife rehabber, but my first glance at the turkey told me that it wasn’t likely to survive.  I didn’t see any blood, but I could see the life slipping away from its limp body.

I called work to say I was running late, then brought the turkey back home.  By then I could see that its spirit had left.  I carried the warm, lifeless body inside and placed it on the kitchen floor.  I have never seen a turkey up close like that before, and I was struck by how beautiful it was.   It was magnificent, with gleaming iridescent feathers.  They felt impossibly soft and thick as I ran my hands through them.  The wings were wide and striped with a remarkably intricate pattern.  How could such an impressive and beautiful animal exist right here in New England?

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Big, beautiful bird

I felt confused as mix of sorrow, anger, and awe coursed through me.  How could someone just hit an incredible creature like this and not stop or seem to care?

I decided to accept this sad event as a gift.  I sat next to the beautiful bird with loving admiration, seeking to honor it.

While I’ve never hunted or farmed, I do eat meat, and I realized that this gift was a opportunity for me to connect with the land in a new way.  And with Christmas right around the corner, I knew this turkey would go to good use.

I plucked and dressed the turkey on tarp in the kitchen, as Rob read instructions to me (thank goodness for the internet!).  It was an unforgettable experience – one that gave me a newfound respect for our animal brethren and for the lives that they give to us so that we may have sustenance.  I also gained a newfound respect for myself as I took responsibility for cleaning and preparing an animal to eat.  Having had no prior experience with that, I wasn’t sure it was something I could do, but it connected me to nature in a way that I have never experienced before.

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Plucking the turkey

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Removing the insides of the turkey – an experience I’m not likely to forget anytime soon. The “blood” on my shirt is not from the turkey – it’s fake blood leftover from Halloween!

Today is Christmas eve, and a magical layer of ice and snow drapes the trees like fine crystal.  As I glance out the window, I can see juncos hopping from the rooftop to a branch and then back again.  Later today, I will be roasting the turkey and, as always, I will be giving thanks for the sacredness of life and the miraculous wisdom and divine harmony of Nature.

Wishing you all a safe and Merry Christmas.

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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.

 

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