Constant Companions

I distinctly remember the first time I realized that I would die.  I was about 9 or 10 and I was lying in bed at night, when suddenly this realization poured over me.  I am going to die someday.  The room spun.  My heart pounded. Surely, this couldn’t be possible.  Yet, not only was it possible – it was absolutely going to happen!

Sometimes I wonder if I think about death more than the average person.  It’s not that I have a morbid fascination with it.  Nor do I fear it.  But the knowledge of this universal truth compels me toward a respectful recognition of this point within the Circle of Life.

I feel a need to confront death and suffering head on.  This is difficult work, and it is a part of what draws me to working in wildlife rehabilitation.  I do not want to run, hide, or be in fear of the Truth.  I want to walk hand in hand with it, to welcome it, to be at peace with it.

A couple of days ago, I received the news that my beloved raccoon friend, Nyxie, had died.  She was a special patient at the wildlife rehabilitation center I work at, and her sweet, gentle disposition touched the hearts of all who knew her.

I was so crestfallen when I got the news, even though I knew it was best in the long run.  I took a walk down to the old cemetery near my house, and I saw a flock of turkeys coming up the path.  How apropos.  Turkeys somehow always remind me of the gifts of life and death.

I walked down to the weathered tombstones, the graves of townsfolk who witnessed the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, and the turn of the century.  Normally, I only walk to the edge of the cemetery. There is something that prevents me from entering.  I think it is just the knowledge that I am standing on the bones of lives that were once filled with vitality –  people who laughed, ate, slept, suffered, loved.  And now their skeletons lie flat and crumbling below my feet.

But I did not hesitate to enter the cemetery this time.  I looked at the headstones.  I looked at the surrounding forest.  I listened to the cars in the distance.  I smelled the autumn air. I felt Death and Life beside me, around me, inside me – constant companions and friends.  I felt grief. I felt the wind rustle. I felt my heart beat.  I felt peaceful.

On that note, I’d like to share one of my favorite excerpts from Johnny Muir:

“All the merry dwellers of the trees and streams, and the myriad swarms of the air, called into life by the sunbeam of a summer morning, go home through death, wings folded perhaps in the last red rays of sunset of the day they were first tried.  Trees towering in the sky, braving storms of centuries, flowers turning faces to the light for a single day or hour, having enjoyed their share of life’s feast – all alike passed on and away under the law of death and love.  Yet all are our brothers and they enjoy life as we do, share heaven’s blessings with us, die and are buried in hallowed ground, come with us out of eternity and return into eternity.”

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Nyxie had a gentle and loving demeanor that was very calming to be around.  She was a miracle of Nature, and she has now returned Home.

 

 

 

 

 

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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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Looking for space

imageimage.jpegI’ve seen a lot of amazing places over the last week or so. I drove from the Columbia River Gorge through the rippling brown grasslands of eastern Oregon and Washington, through the sweeping evergreen mountains of Idaho, and into the big sky country of Montana. Each place I visited captured my imagination, but none so much as Glacier National Park, where I have been for the last several days. There are no words to describe it and pictures cannot begin to do it justice. It is truly a wild place, where the purity of nature’s divinity is experienced in every golden aspen, every fragrant evergreen bough, and every crystal lake. The snow covered mountains rejoice upward into the sky, and my heart has found it impossible not to do the same.

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It has been a challenging and incredible experience. I’ve had a lot of long cold nights. I’ve met many interesting travelers and characters, including a handsome older outdoorsman who offered to lend me his pistol – hello wild west! I got to test my tracking skills when I dropped my phone in a foot of snow and it was almost impossible to find my own footsteps amongst the tremendous tangle of wild hoof and paw prints. My mind wanted to panic and rush to find it, but it was only when I stayed calm and mindful and went painstakingly slowly that I was able to find what I was looking for. It was interesting to be aware that, although I might be highly inconvenienced, in the grand scheme of things what difference does a phone make anyway?

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I certainly realize that this trip is about so much more than the physical journey and destination. It’s about trusting myself that I will be OK and that I will figure it out if I am not. It’s about being on my guard, but also trusting in others and getting in touch with my friendlier side. It’s about freedom and a space to be, to exist, and to experience whatever life brings my way.

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I can hardly think of a more awe-inspiring place of discovery. I’ve hiked in pristine snow covered wilderness. I have watched eagles soaring over jewel lakes. I’ve heard elks bugling across a remote and untouched valley. I’ve come across a kill site where the remains of a deer marked the earth with the law of life and death – a law to which we are all bound.

And I’ve seen FOUR grizzly bears!

One of the things that strikes me most about this landscape as how nature exists as intended. It’s heartening to know that somewhere in our crazy mixed up world there is still a space to be wild – or simply a space to be.

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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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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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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.