Finding the point

I woke up this morning feeling depleted and bereft after pushing too hard against my natural rhythm all week.  The burning question in my mind was, “What’s the point?”  I honestly couldn’t say.

I went out into the garden, knowing that connecting with living, growing things is usually balm for my soul.  I picked raspberries, gently plucking the sweet thimble-like fruit into a well worn paper pint container – a simple and kindly reassuring task.  I harvested beans and tomatoes, and checked on the status of the rest of my nourishing bounty.  One corner of the garden has been rather over-taken by milkweed, which I left intentionally to attract monarch butterflies.  Lo and behold, this morning, I spotted 15 monarch caterpillars munching away on the smooth oval foliage.  What a heartening sight!

Shortly after coming back inside, I saw a movement outside my window.  A young black bear was out in the yard.  I watched as it made it’s way up the front slope, behind the woodshed, and up into the woods behind the house.  It was so calm, so unperturbed – just following its own rhythm and its own flow.  It wasn’t wondering what the point was.  It was just BEING and doing what bears do.

Soon the monarch caterpillars will have eaten their fill of milkweed and they will begin their transition to pupae, and then eventually emerge as butterflies to begin their migration back to warmer climes.  They too, have their own rhythm, and nothing can be rushed.  They do not question the point.   They simply go with their own unique flow.  But maybe that IS the point.  We all need to find the rhythm and flow that works for us.  Maybe it’s then that we can emerge as fully developed beings and soar to our deepest potential and purpose.

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The skunk under the bridge

The skunk under the bridge

The following is a guest post by Rob Fletcher, originally written for his blog At Your Best. It is about our experience rescuing a stranded skunk, and I couldn’t have written anything more perfect about this beautiful and poignant moment.   I’ve also included a video of some of the skunks I have been caring for at the wildlife rehabilitation facility that I volunteer at. Please enjoy. 

Another 90 degree summer day, another work day done, another evening summer swim in the books. I left the water at the base of the bridge of the Millers River and started up the bank when a movement behind me caught my eye. I turned and saw an adolescent skunk huddled on the concrete ledge about four feet off the ground. It peered at me for a moment then tucked its head back into its body, flattening itself against the wall and shaking lightly. A list of swear words had been spray painted sometime earlier in the summer above where it lay – a neat juxtaposition of the priorities of importance of animal and human realm.

I called Laura. Laura volunteers at a wildlife rehabilitation place locally and is studying to get her license – she’d know what to do, how to help. Then I sat on the bank looking at the skunk while waiting for Laura to arrive. It was beautiful. A white crown and broad white striping on its young back. It was quiet down there, just sitting and being near this scared, stressed, uncomplaining little animal. Something settled in me that moment.

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Young skunks having a meal at a wildlife rehabilitation facility. See below for video footage!

Laura arrived with a pet carrier, a broom, a blanket and a can of cat food. It took a while, cat food in carrier, open door, blanket over the carrier to create a safe, dark cave, and Laura quietly, calmly, patiently sweeping near the skunk until it finally backed into the cage. Laura carried it upstream and found a quiet spot in the woods near the water’s edge. She opened the carrier door but the skunk didn’t want to leave. She had to tilt it until it finally came out. As soon as it realized where it was it shuffled into the underbrush, vanishing to the human eye back into nature.

Laura thought that it may have been stuck up there a while. Skunks can climb a little bit , and it probably scrambled up to escape something attacking it. But the smooth surface of the concrete, surrounded almost entirely by water, probably made it too difficult to climb down. It was probably hungry and dehydrated, and definitely very stressed. I was proud of Laura – her first successful rescue mission.

I had had a good day of work previously – lots got accomplished. But nothing felt like the skunk experience. The work had me at one level, then the skunk helped me sink way down. Its quiet vulnerability released an internal wall and I felt such a deep tenderness. And to help, to be of use, felt so powerful. I could see why Laura is attracted to this kind of work.

And I was reminded again of the deep power of purpose – of aligning our actions with helping something beyond ourselves. Seeing vulnerability makes it easier to do. It unlocks that tenderness we’re all capable of. How can we be of use? How can we notice vulnerability around us? How can we let down our guards to show our vulnerability? Vulnerability is the cornerstone of trust, of connection. There is some part of each person we meet today that is huddled into itself, scared and shaking. After all, we are all animals.

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.

 

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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