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.

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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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Negative Space and the Law of Nature

treesYesterday at work, I noticed a poinsettia plant forgotten and slowly dying on top of a filing cabinet. With sadness in my heart, I asked myself, “How could I have let this suffer so?”

To be alive is to suffer, and to suffer is to be alive.  There is no doubt that suffering is hard and sometimes brutally unbearable, but it is an inescapable  law of nature.

I woke up this morning cloaked in my own suffering.  I thought to myself, “I am in a really negative space.”

I don’t want to suffer.  None of us do, but when I said the words, “negative space” to myself, I suddenly thought of what that means to an artist.  In essence, it is empty space.  It is the space within, between, and around objects.  Every positive space is surrounded by negative space.  It is needed to make a painting or drawing balanced and whole and beautiful.

Today we are having a big snow storm and I am looking out the window and I can see that the ground is already covered in a blanket of white.  If I look at it with an artist’s eye, I see that the whiteness of the earth and sky is the negative space.  It is the emptiness that holds the trees and makes them appear upright and strong.  The effect is a  landscape painting  full of simplicity, vulnerability, strength, and beauty.

How does the artist’s negative space relate to suffering?  I can’t speak for anyone else, but for me, maybe suffering is an opportunity to empty something out, to create a canvas where the positive space can shine more beautifully.

Costa Rican Holiday

Costa Rican Holiday

I just returned from 10 blissful days in Costa Rica.  I can’t quite escape the feeling that somehow I have gotten away with something – that having thumbed my nose at convention, I slammed the door shut on the all the holiday happenings, the excessive consumerism, the oppressive obligation, and the general seasonal stress.

If I sound like a bit of a Grinch, I confess that I probably am.  I think part of it probably has to do with the fact that I’ve never been able to recapture that magical feeling that Christmas had when I was a kid.  But this year, as I sat on an endless black sand beach, feeling the warm air surround me, and seeing the green vegetation teeming with life, I felt a different kind of magic.  It was a bit like my own personal Whoville, and my heart felt like it grew three sizes in its lush, tropical landscape.

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Christmas day in Cahuita

Over the past few years, I have been finding the northern winters increasingly hard to tolerate.  I can feel myself wither and withdraw under the lack of sun and color. So, needless to say, starting the winter in Costa Rica was a great way begin the season.

We stayed in Cahuita, a fairly small town on the Caribbean coast.  The eastern side of Costa Rica is the rainy side, which may be why more tourists usually flock to the Pacific coast on the western, drier side.

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Arriving in Cahuita

We rented a small, rustic cabin right across from the beach, and only a short walk to Parque Nacional Cahuita.  The park itself has a very accessible 9km coastal trail, where you can stop along soft white sand beaches to swim in perfect turquoise water, or become entranced with the incredible amount of plants and animals that abound.  I couldn’t believe all the wildlife we saw!

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Howler monkey in Parque Nacional Cahuita. Those guys are LOUD!

Now, I have returned to the sleepy winter woods of New England.  A new year is here.  I have mixed feelings about this.  I guess it’s a time to think about what I want to take with me as I move forward into the winter, and into the year ahead.

It seems that with each passing year, I become more concerned about the future of our planet – over-population, unsustainable consumption of resources, habitat destruction, loss of wildlife, and of course, global warming.  I don’t mean to sound like a Debbie Downer, but these are the concerns of our time, and yet, not enough people seem concerned.

Costa Rica is known for its “green” reputation, but even there, development, habitat loss, and hunting/poaching have threatened much of its verdant jungle.  Some of its wild inhabitants are endangered, or even considered extinct in some regions.  As amazing and relaxing as my trip was, I couldn’t help but feel a sadness at the loss this magical place has already endured.

With all that said, as we enter 2017, I look forward to savoring the life that surrounds us, wherever I may find myself.  I will continue to strive to treat all living beings with honor and respect, knowing that they all have an important place in our ecosystem.  I will continue to look for ways to help those living beings who have no voice, so that we may all move forward in this uncertain world, together.

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Our cabin in Cahuita

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Playa Negra across from our cabin

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A mangrove black-hawk (I think)

A momma and baby sloth right across from our cabin. If you look closely, you can see the baby's snout peaking out from underneath mom's belly.

A mama and baby sloth right across from our cabin. If you look closely, you can see the baby’s snout peaking out from underneath mom’s belly.

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A coati in Parque Nacional Cahuita

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Howler monkeys having a snack

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White sand beach in Parque Nacional Cahuita

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Great white egret

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An agouti in Parque Nacional Cahuita

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Frosty got a make-over

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Some friends I met on the beach

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Wandering beauties

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In Parque Nacional Cahuita

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Another friend in Parque Nacional Cahuita

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Sleeping beauty in Parque Nacional Cahuita

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Boat-billed fly catcher at Playa Negra

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Biking in Cahuita

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Peace in the (Pioneer) Valley

At last!  The days of increasing darkness have ended, and the light begins to return again!  Although it won’t be noticeable for a while, it feels like a pressure valve has been released, and just in the nick of time.  I don’t think I could’ve handled losing any more  precious daylight.

Today is the first full day of winter, although today’s weather forecast might have you fooled into thinking it’s the first day of spring.  Is it really supposed to be 60 degrees? Ah, well, no matter.  The cold will be back in no time, and there will be plenty of it before the ground thaws and we start to see the first crocuses cheerfully popping up.

But don’t despair, for with the winter comes a time to retreat within.  It is a time of care we must give to ourselves, and we mustn’t extend ourselves too much to the outside world.  It’s a time for what comforts us most, and being able to allow ourselves those comforts without guilt, for we need to recharge and gather our energy for the coming spring.

One of the things I like most about winter is the unparalleled magic and beauty of snow, and over the last week or so, we got about a foot of it here in the Pioneer Valley.  What, exactly, is it about snow that makes everything so peaceful?  There is nothing quite like a blanket of pure white to muffle out the craziness of life.  The world seems to stand still, hushed, and for a moment, perfect.  The dreary greys of the season are whitewashed with a fresh coast of soft powder, and everything radiates serenity and grace.

There is something particularly special about the first real snow of the season.  We’re not winter-weary yet, and in fact, we are excited for our first chance to break out our sleds, skis, snowshoes, or what have you.

Playing outside is just as important as quietly observing and appreciating nature, in my opinion.  After all, it is just a different kind of appreciation.   But it’s great when you can do both.

After a few exhilarating runs on the sledding hill the other day, I plopped down in my sled.  I laid staring at the open sky, which was the color of the clear tropical waters of the Caribbean.  Tufts of orangey-pink clouds breezed across, and I suddenly found my 6-year old self present, as I tried to identify the different shapes.  One looked like a conch shell and one looked like a unicorn holding an Easter basket. The sky was framed with snow-covered pine boughs, and I found myself thinking, “What a gift.”

As we enter this Christmas season of giving, I encourage you to give to yourself – not something of the material world (although that’s okay too), but give yourself time to retreat, and time to appreciate yourself as part of this beautiful natural world that we live in.

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