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.

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Going backwards into Summer

Going backwards into Summer

Summer is here! I went for a paddle on Laurel Lake in Erving with a neighbor this evening, which was a great way to ring in this vibrant season.

As I started paddling, I found myself veering off in a weird and unexpected direction, unable to control myself.  It took me a few seconds before I realized that I was on my paddle board backwards.  I laughed and said, “Well, that basically sums up the way my day has been.  What a metaphor for life!”  It was funny because it was true. I really did feel like I was going backwards today, and most certainly did NOT feel in control.

I love these little moments of wisdom in life, and it’s especially great when they make you laugh.  Let’s face it.  We all have days like this – heading in an unexpected direction, or feeling fear or frustration when we seem to be going backwards instead of forwards.  Hey, it happens.  But, eventually, we straighten ourselves out and move ahead through the calm, clear waters.

Being out on the lake was so peaceful and serene.  The mountain laurel is in bloom all along the shore line, and it looks like little while and pink candies dotting the dark green foliage.   A loon was swimming at one end of the lake, and watching it dive under the water inspired me to do the same.  The water was so sweet and cool, like liquid velvet gliding across my skin.

I’m excited for summer.  Even if I find myself veering unexpectedly, out of control, or going backwards, I know I can always depend on the gentle magic of nature to set me straight.

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Pink and white candy blooms of mountain laurel

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Yours truly on Laurel Lake

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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Smoky Mountain Birthday

Smoky Mountain Birthday

It’s my birthday!  And that means it’s time for my annual birthday blog post.  This year, I’m spending it in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, where we are camping and hiking for several days.

Our campsite is right on the Little River at Elkmont Campground, and apparently, we lucked out by getting what veteran campers here refer to as “the primo site” (Site F8, if you happen to be going there).  And I can see why!  It’s private, quiet, and absolutely stunning.

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Having a cup of coffee steam-side at the campsite on the morning of my birthday – it doesn’t get much better than that!

Spring has sprung here, with tender green leaves unfolding with each passing moment and wildflowers covering the forest floor like sweet, delicate confetti, helping me to celebrate what it means to be alive.

At this moment, I am sitting at the edge of a mountain stream, watching the water tumble over a huge heap of rocks and boulders.  I can’t help but wonder how long this seemingly endless gush has been going on for and how long it will last – a course gradually changing over time.  A rhododendron bush is growing out of a crack in a boulder in an audacious attempt to survive.  A little further upstream, a fallen tree rots, giving life to moss, ferns, and other plants.  Butterflies and other insects zip about, full of mystery and wonder.

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Stopping along a mountain stream

Spring is the time when the miracles of life are most apparent to me, including my own.  I feel so lucky to be alive and experiencing this immensely beautiful world.  I find gentle reassurance in the life pushing forward around me.  But I also find quiet reassurance in the death and decay.

As I push forward in my own life’s journey, I find myself more willing to greet the varying experiences I find there, knowing with a calm heart that my journey, like all others, will someday end.  In the meantime, it continues flowing, changing course along the way.  And hopefully, the banks will continue to be rich and resplendent, with many places to stop for quiet reflection and perhaps an occasional refreshing swim!

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The “Walker Sisters Place” – an old homestead from the 1800s, where 5 self-reliant sisters lived until the last one passed away in 1964.

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Pamela, one of my oldest and dearest friends, came to visit for a day hike with her husband, Bryan. Here we are in front of the Walker Sisters Place!

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The view from Mount LeConte

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The lovely view of Little River from our “primo” campsite

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Happy Birthday to me!

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If you like abandoned buildings and ruins, then you will LOVE the area of Elkmont, which was a thriving vacation community in the 30s.  Many of the cabins there have been torn down, but many are still standing and in various states of disrepair.  You could easily spend hours exploring their spooky interiors and imagining what they used to be like.

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We saw a trillion trilliums!

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Birthday hike through Cucumber Gap

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A magical birthday rainbow – or perhaps a Laura Aura!

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Forest fairy land

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A lovely waterfall along our hike

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A carpet of wildflowers

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One of many mountain streams 

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Dwarf violet irises after a rain

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.

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.