Visitors

I had two flocks of turkeys pass through my yard today.  I stopped to watch them, and in those moments, there was nothing else happening in the world.  The sky rumbled, grey and pouty, as it began to spit like a child having a temper tantrum.  I stood at my window, watching the golden maple leaves sway carelessly to the ground, feeling aware of the comfort of my home. Memories of my lifetime of autumns passed in an instant, as if I was casually flipping the pages of my favorite book.

I pictured myself making a big bowl of popcorn and sitting down to watch the turkeys.  But I knew that by the time I did that, my visitors would have moved on.  No, this was just a moment to be still, to treasure, to simply be there with the sky, the leaves, my cozy house, and the beautiful birds.  They are glorious.  They made me laugh as they pecked their way through my yard and garden, raising and tilting their eggshell blue heads, pecking, shuffling, ambling, scrambling.

I admit, I am having a hard time being back in “reality” after being away for so long.  But my heart is grateful for these remarkable visitors today because they reminded me of the “real” reality that is around me 24 hours a day, even when I’m too busy to acknowledge it. Furthermore, they reminded me that we are all just visitors here.  Like the falling leaves, we will all lay down for our final rest someday.  Perhaps that is why autumn is such a melancholy season – because deep down, we feel that reminder in our bones.  But I don’t feel sad.  I feel a deep, satisfying gratitude for all that is, and calm serenity for all that will be.

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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

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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Full Moon, Full Heart

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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.

 

The Golden Umbrella

The Golden Umbrella

As far as days go, they don’t get any better than today.  The foliage is at the peak of its kaleidoscopic grandeur, and the weather has been perfectly sublime.

When I stepped out the door this morning, I gasped in awe at the golden umbrella arching over my driveway, glowing warmly in the early sun.  And I asked myself, “How could this beautiful place possibly be my home?  How did I get so lucky?”

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The Golden Umbrella

But I must confess, I gripe constantly about the work involved with owning a home. Something always needs to be fixed, cleaned, or tended, which (as any homeowner knows) takes a considerable amount of time.  I pine for the days of my 20s, when renting a room or studio apartment afforded me plenty of free time to do things on the weekend.

But as I was driving to my job this morning, I came to thinking  of the good ol’ days, and I kind of realized that maybe they weren’t all they cracked up to be.  Sure, maybe I didn’t have to mow the lawn or fix the gutters, but I wasn’t really any happier.  In fact, I think I was much less happy than  I am now.

I think about my life now vs. then, and I realize that I have created an amazing place for myself in the world.  I have a job that I like, a warm and cozy home in a beautiful location, and friends and loved ones to spend time with.  Are things perfect?  No.  But they are pretty damn good.

There is nothing like the brief brilliance of autumn to remind you to be present in the moment.  It’s easy to get caught up in longing for days gone by, or to look forward to things yet to come.  But this moment – this fleeting moment – is the one that matters most.  Like the ephemeral flourish of fall, we just have to be present to appreciate it.

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My little house on the hill

 

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Monkshood out in one of the flower beds

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My favorite place for a nap

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A lovely “volunteer” blueberry bush

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Sister Golden Hair