Autumn on Cape Cod

Autumn on Cape Cod

Cape Cod in autumn is a magical place.  Perfect weather, gorgeous beaches, glimpses of wild nature, and best of all, no crowds!

I spent the weekend camping in Nickerson State Park with my three aunts, and needless to say, we had a wonderful time.  I decided to stay an extra night on my own, and the park is nearly deserted.  My company this evening was a precious cottontail rabbit who chose to forage near me as I ate my dinner.  We spent at least an hour together, cohabitating, eating, and perking up our ears at the sound of a great horned owl in the distance.

I had a lazy day today on Cape Cod Bay.  I loafed about on the beach, squinting into the sun and watching a flock of plovers in the sand. I went for a walk along a salt marsh and watched the water creeping in with the tide, slowly seeping into the grass and sand.

Salt marshes are among my favorite places in the world.  They embody a perfect cycle of emptying out and filling up, breathing with the tide.  The tidal channels are like veins flowing with vital life-giving force.

This evening before dinner, I went for a walk by one of the Cape’s many glacial kettle ponds.  I watched the sun slant across the water, reflecting ripples of golden light on the changing leaves.  Small fish darted by the water’s edge and tiny islands of floating pollen cast amoeba-like shadows in the ridges of sand below the surface.

Tonight before retiring, I went for a walk through the campground to admire the silhouettes of the pitch pines against the deep blue of the sky.  The stars shimmered and my breath formed cloud bursts in the brisk night air.

Now as I lay in my sleeping bag, I hear something gnawing outside my tent and I am burning with curiosity.  What IS that?  But I know the moment I shine my lantern at it, it will vanish.  Just this moment, I hear a screech owl begin to call out into the night, which sounds to me like a cartoonish high pitched snore.  No doubt, last night’s pack of coyotes will join in any moment.

These night sounds don’t bother me.  They comfort me, for in hearing them, I know that nature is persisting in her wondrous ways and I am not alone.

Dwelling thus upon the dunes, I lived in the midst of an abundance of natural life which manifested itself every hour of the day, and from being thus surrounded, thus enclosed within a great whirl of what one may call the life force, I felt that I drew a secret and sustaining energy.”  – Henry Beston from “The Outermost House”

IMG_1783

Feeling simply marshvelous at Nauset marsh

IMG_1797

Coast Guard beach

IMG_1844

Cape Cod Bay

IMG_1864

An osprey next 

IMG_1899

Autumn afternoon on Cliff Pond

 

 

 

 

Becoming an Outdoors Woman in the Adirondacks

Becoming an Outdoors Woman in the Adirondacks

This past weekend, I travelled to my home state of New York to attend the DEC sponsored Becoming an Outdoors Woman program in the Adirondacks.  The program offers dozens of classes in outdoor skills such as hunting and fishing, map and compass, how to preserve food, reading the landscape, and much, much more.  There are four sessions (so you pick four classes) throughout the weekend.  I took classes in Adirondack ecology, field dressing, taxidermy, and tree identification.

IMG_1669

My Adirondack ecology class

It was incredible to have a shared experience with other women with similar interests.  I really don’t have any women in my life who share my passion for the outdoors, so that was new for me.  There was a wide range of interest and experience among the participants, from novice to advanced.  Amazingly, nothing felt intimidating. It was just a supportive and encouraging environment for women interested in the outdoors.

Ecology and plant identification are kind of my wheelhouse, but I took those classes because I am by no means an expert and there is always more to learn.  The field dressing class was far and away my favorite.  We worked on gutting and skinning a deer, rabbit, squirrel, pheasants, and fish. I found it genuinely fascinating and it helped deepen my respect for these sacred animals.

IMG_1683

That’s me working on cutting open a deer

I was particularly interested in the taxidermy class for my work as a wildlife rehabilitator (i.e., for animals that don’t make it to be used for educational purposes). In the class, we taxidermied red squirrels.  It was quite an interesting challenge (it was hard to sew up those little skins!) and I felt sad for the animals.  They were “nuisance animals” that had been killed by DEC, which I struggled to accept because it goes against my personal beliefs.  But I did my best to honor the animal and thank it for being there so I could learn this amazing skill.

Now I am relaxing in my hammock overlooking a peaceful Adirondack lake.  I camped here for a couple of nights to relax and decompress from the weekend’s activities.  It is perfectly quiet except for the sound of the wind in the trees and the gentle hum of a few insects to keep me company by day, and the howling and hooting of loons and owls to keep me from getting lonesome at night.

The trees are tinged with the first hint of color although the sun still feels warm and generous on my face.  I hate to leave, but my body is telling me it’s time to go home and I’ve ignored it for far too long.

Autumn is nearly here.  It is a time for winding down and letting go, and I am ready.  Are you?

 

IMG_1744

My taxidermied red squirrel.  Once it is dry, I can remove the pins and mount it on something more natural.

IMG_1726

Goin’ campin’!

IMG_1735

What a beautiful place to camp and relax!

IMG_1734

A sweet little mushroom fairyland

IMG_1741

The view from my hammock as darkness approaches

Minnesota Mellow

Minnesota Mellow

I’ve been camping and doing nothing in particular in northern Minnesota for the last week.  It’s been a long time since I’ve travelled without a plan or itinerary and it feels really refreshing.  I have a pretty low key life in general, but it often feels clenched and tight like a balled fist.  What a relief it is to let everything go.

I love the sense of freedom on the road.  An alternate reality presents itself.  I quickly forget about checking emails or responding to calls and messages, and then I feel foolish for thinking those things were so important in the first place.   Let’s face it, life will go on without me, whether it’s for one week or the rest of eternity.

Lake Superior is something to behold.  Its vastness seems to have cracked something open inside me.  When I first saw it, I felt relaxed for the first time in weeks.  The breeze swept through me and hollowed me out, sweeping my tension over the expansive horizon.

If you like quiet and solitude (yes, please!), northern Minnesota is the place to go.  In just about an hour from Duluth, you can be in a fairytale forest where the earth is sprinkled with lakes and fields of wildflowers bow deeply with respect to the wind.  Nothing seems crowded.  Everything seems mellow.  Wolves still prowl the land.  Loons cry out into the crispy sky.  Baubles of red bunch berries and plump blue orchid fruit carpet the forest floor beneath boughs of evergreens.  Somethings still feels wild here, slow, and perhaps a bit old fashioned.  It’s a place you can come to be with your thoughts or to let them escape into the wind.

IMG_0488

There are tons of free camping options right alongside the many lakes in the northern woods!

IMG_0491

Relaxing by a waterfall in Tettegouche State Park

IMG_0494

There are lots of streams in case you get tired of lakes!

IMG_0505

Lovely Lake Superior – look at that color!

IMG_0511

A Superior view, I must say!

The gift of death

A wildlife rehabilitator’s goal is to care for an injured or orphaned animal until they can be released back into the wild.  And while this is very much my goal as a rehabber, one of the reasons why I chose to volunteer my time caring for animals, is also to work with the suffering and the dying.  I view this as extremely important, albeit difficult work, and it is very much a part of my inner journey.

This morning I awoke to find a bunny patient in its final moments before death.  The bunny had developed diarrhea during the night, which can often happen during the transition from drinking formula to eating solids.  A bunny with this affliction can die within hours.

I don’t blame myself when an animal dies, but I can’t help but wonder if it would have survived if I had done things differently.  A million possibilities swim through my head until I am filled with the peaceful stillness left behind by death.

I have been unwell lately, suffering as I have often suffered over the last 5 years with chronic illness.  Yesterday, I found myself imagining breathing my last breath and feeling relief sweep over me as I left my body. I don’t want to die, but I could see that death is not the enemy as we are sometimes led to believe.  Death is a natural part of each and everyone’s journey.  Death is not a failure.

We all have our own journey through life. Some of them are long, some of them are short.  All will have some degree of suffering.  This is a universal truth.

Yes, it is sad when my patients die.  It’s sad that they didn’t get to run through meadows and nibble on clover in the late afternoon sun.  But they completed their journey and returned to their place in the circle of life.  Furthermore, I am grateful to have had the opportunity to care for them in their hours, days, weeks, or months on this planet.  I’m grateful for their wild wisdom and for their difficult lessons in suffering and death.  More than anything, I feel that this is the most precious and sacred gift of all.

bunny

Desert connection

Desert connection

The desert is sparkling with bouquets of wildflowers in shades of salmon and sunshine, striking violet, soft white, and rich velvety red.  Each day I notice a different kind of flower stretching toward the vast open sky, flourishing in the warmth of the sun with a flash of ephemeral beauty.  It’s miraculous to witness these blooms springing out of the dusty, dry soil.

I’ve been in southern UT for the past week, camping in and near Capitol Reef National Park.  It’s a remarkable place filled with formations of rock and earth that defy imagination.  Never before have I seen so many geologic layers, stripes, swirls, waves, ripples, and pockmarks in such a variety of colors.  It’s a holy place born of time and elements which I find to be calm and reassuring.  Dramatic changes on the face of the earth are evident here in plain view, and as I think about our planet’s future, I am reminded of how small a part humans play in the great pantheon of time and space.

I have been thinking a lot about our culture’s relationship to land – how it is viewed as a commodity, an asset, something to be developed, something to be exploited, or something to be preserved.  I’ve been filled with a sense of mourning as I think about all the living things that have perished on the land so that we can live our modern lives.

On the drive to the park from Salt Lake City, I saw hundreds, if not thousands, of butterflies sweeping across the landscape.  It was impossible not to hit some of them with the car. Seeing them hit the windshield filled me with such an awful feeling, and I was acutely aware of the loss of each precious life.  Throughout the park, the remains of butterflies were smeared across every vehicle, and it struck me as so so ironic that these gentle beings should be senselessly sacrificed so that we may enjoy our pilgrimage to rejoice in the beauty of nature.

And yet here we are, drawn to our homeland, our blessed earth, to marvel at all she has to offer.  Gazing across a canyon today, I found myself asking, “What do I have to offer?” I couldn’t think of anything other than placing my hands on the earth and pouring loving care through my body and into the soil.  I guess it wasn’t much, but it was something.  It was connection.  Isn’t that what we are all searching for?  Our hearts and souls long to be part of something larger and to be filled with a sense of community and belonging,

This makes me think of a quote I saw in the Captiol Reef visitor’s center, which was so beautifully said:

“We abuse the land because we view it as a commodity belonging to us.  When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect.”   – Aldo Leopold

IMG_2012IMG_2017IMG_2058IMG_2068IMG_2074IMG_2083IMG_2128IMG_2130IMG_2132IMG_2144IMG_2146IMG_2159IMG_2182

 

 

 

The thread of consciousness

Watching birds in the ocean yesterday, I was struck by the connectedness of all things – the ocean, the sand, microbes, plankton, fish, people, all of it.  I became aware of the universal consciousness, the divine thread that binds us all together.  I watched the shore birds fluttering in the waves searching for fish and I thought, “Their life is my life, their suffering is my suffering, their pain is my pain, and their death is my death.”  We are one consciousness.

Taking in my surroundings today – the pond, the trees, the birds and turtles – I find myself trying to expand my consciousness beyond “the relentless industry of self.”  I am consciousness that is in the form of this body – a body that is often experiencing pain and fatigue. But consciousness is not body, it is not ego.  It is present in this form as it is present in all that live and breathe and make up this precious, sacred world.

IMG_1865

An earth-empath’s search for courage

Last night while I was sleeping, I woke up very suddenly feeling exhausted and depleted.  I felt strangely filled with an innate sense of knowledge and I thought to myself, “This is how the earth must feel.”

I was so surprised by the clarity of this sensation even though there was some part of my logic-seeking brain that thought, “Don’t be ridiculous.  The earth can’t FEEL anything.”  In actuality, I think that is just the part of my brain that doesn’t want it to be true.  It reminded me of being a child and thinking that if I couldn’t see someone, they couldn’t see me.

The truth is that the sorrow of the world is running through my veins and I feel the soul of the earth weeping through me.  I was born with this blessing, although it often feels like a curse.

I sometimes wonder how to face a world of suffering when it often seems too difficult to bear.  Instinctively, I feel that the answer must be with a courageous heart.  But how does one find this courage anyhow?  I’m not an authority of the subject, but I think that maybe it’s by letting your heart soften and crack open.  Maybe then, a little light will shine into that crack and lead the way.

IMG_1843IMG_1850

FullSizeRender

IMG_1854IMG_1855

IMG_1883

At last – here is the “morel” of the story! 🙂