Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Once Again

The light has turned. Every year it happens and every year it catches me by surprise. Just when I think summer will never end, it begins to wane.

The foretelling was there, of course, in the raucous hummingbird migration and the enfolding chorus of droning cicadas, crickets and katydids. Insect calls have picked up where spring's bird song left off and the surrounding woods are filled with rhythmic rattling and tinkling throughout the day and well into the evening. The birds are not entirely silent but they are collectively quieter now than earlier in the season. A couple of early morning wood thrushes trill, a single wood peewee whistles, a red-throated vireo questions, and then all is silent again, apart from the insects.

Monarchs float across the landscape, nectaring and laying eggs that will turn into this year's migrants heading to Mexico in a month or so. Lavender mistflower is coming into bloom, and early goldenrod and ironweed dot the roadsides, deep golds and purples, colors of royalty. Scattered here and there through the woodlands stand solitary black gums dressed crimson, harbingers of early autumn, soon to come.

Except for the manic hummingbirds, the season seems to pause, like the river that stills momentarily between the rising and falling tides. Such is an illusion however, as flowers set seeds, wild fruit ripens, insects mate and birds and mammals fatten for whatever lies in the months ahead. 

I am caught between experiencing what is now, and knowing what is coming. Predictably, I swing between exhilaration and melancholy, between breathing in the sweetness of each late-summer moment and grieving for what will soon disappear- osprey and barn swallows, butterflies and singing insects, flowers and foliage. 

O, to be like a child, living each day fully for itself, as yet unpracticed in anticipating change. And yet...might not that very anticipation fuel gratitude?

Monday, October 30, 2017

Autumn's Invitation

Wildly tossed in morning gales, 
encircled by autumn-tinted woodlands,
Indian grasses cavort in the meadow remnant,
backlit, as though touched by frost,
pearly seedheads, bowing and waving as I pass by.

Tinkling of chilly ground crickets
and hungry goldfinches seeking seed,
Cawing of crows, scolding jays,
Hidden white-throats rustling in the leaf layer,
Wind whispering through sleepy trees.

Autumn's invitation to pause, to breathe,
to ponder, to exult in this one moment I am given, 
in gratitude.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

In the Time of Goldfinches and Hummingbirds

"Where do you want to be?" she asked. The veterinarian, who has become my friend, was here to release my old, beloved, little dog from her pain and the discomfort of a large, inoperable, abdominal tumor. My mind slowly numbing, I clutched at the reality that would allow me to bear the next few minutes well, and we went to the front porch. How many times, in how many seasons, have Mollie and I sat on that porch, soaking in the life around us?

These last few days, the tinkling begging calls of goldfinch young and the combative whizzing of hummingbirds have been the audible indicators that summer is waning. Through the open windows, I hear the reminders from early morning until after sunset, so eager are they to take in the nourishment they need to forge ahead into the next stages of their lives. Though Mollie could no longer hear, she watched their comings and goings so closely that I half-feared for the fate of any hummingbirds who swooped down too fearlessly, in their quest to figure out what she was.

As the three of us sat quietly together, I was filled with gratitude for life itself.  For the life of Mollie, for the life of my friend, for the life of the wild ones that surrounded and comforted us, for my own life, and for the life of the Spirit who was so near and present with us. The ancient Christian Celts believed that when God created the world, He did not create it out of nothing, but created it out of Himself and, as a result, they, and I, believe that He has mysteriously left bits of Himself, in all that is. Bits of Himself that connected Mollie and I to each other, during those last moments. Bits that connect me to the wild creatures and to the sources of nourishment that support them. 

Though deeply saddened at Mollie's passing, I know that in loving her, and in caring for and delighting in so many lives in this world...those of people, of wild and domestic animals, of birds and insects, of trees and forbs, I have grown and I have been deepened, through no effort of my own, other than the loving. May it be so for you.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Walking in Wonder

Right here, at the beginning of these musings, I will admit that I wish that all of my moments were spent in wonder, in the noticing what is right in front of me. They are not, however, and sometimes, to be honest, wonder is the farthest thing from my mind. Nevertheless, its invitation is always present, always beckoning, always the means of dropping the cares that consume me, if only for a short while.

Take right now, for example...a gentle rain is falling and, out my window, I can hear every drop pattering on the layer of dried leaves I laid down last fall. Sometimes, as I sit near this window, I hear birds scrabbling through the leaves, looking for worms and insects. Sometimes, in the night, tiny creatures move quietly to and fro in the midst of their nocturnal business. Occasionally, something louder...a opossum or raccoon ambles by, doing I know not what, affording me the opportunity to stop what I am doing and edge closer to the window to better listen to their rustling.

A few days ago, while walking to the nearby wetlands, I happened to look down at just the right moment to witness a mother snapping turtle  laying her eggs in the sandy shoulder of the road. I kept a respectful distance, and she seemed to not notice me, so consumed was she by the task at hand. The next morning, I walked the same route, and found that her egg laying efforts would produce no young turtles this year. Her eggs had been dug up and consumed by a predator, possibly the opossum or raccoons that come through my yard. Each soft, white egg had been torn in half and the contents slurped out, leaving only the broken shells behind, scattered like dried magnolia petals along the road.

On that same walk was a dead tree whose top had broken off some time ago, and only the lowest part of the trunk remained, a common enough sight where I live. This tree trunk, however, was dotted with myriad small, white specimens of shelf fungus, thriving on what had once been alive and was no longer. 

Like the broken turtles eggs that nourished some other being, like last year's dry leaves that carpet the earth, the dead tree and the thriving fungus reminded me of the ways of this world, ways that I don't want to accept or embrace, sometimes. Loss can lead to life, if we let it. It can lead to a new way of being alive, a new way of seeing the world and ourselves, even a new experience of gratitude. Having known loss numerous times...who lives to be my age without its presence...I look back, indeed with wonder, at its softening effects on my heart and soul. Would I have been as pliable without noticing the ever-present examples of transformation that the natural world offers? I think not. These examples are there for all who look and who stop, in their busyness, to pay attention. They are there, for you. May you heed and be enriched by them, as you go about your own life this day.

Saturday, May 13, 2017


I did not set out to make a bouquet with these flowers. They were supposed to be part of an arrangement that, as it turned out, not only didn't need them, but looked much better without them. These flowers became the leftovers.

I have been thinking about living in the present moment, lately...about appreciating the rain, even after several days of showers; about letting go of my frustration as I fight my way through snarly traffic to travel most anywhere north of here; about willingly accepting the aches and pains that are a given part of my chosen vocation. While it is easy to embrace the moment when all things are going well, how much more challenging when such is not the case. During those seasons, when life is not as I might wish, I am coming to realize that there is an invitation in accepting what is, and that surrender often offers riches that I have surely been slow to appreciate. 

If you keep a garden, you are likely intimately aware that its conditions change over time and, that at least sometimes, you actually have very little control of what occurs there. Some plants you try are just not happy where you put them. Some run vigorously where you would rather they not venture, the moment your back is turned. Some newcomers appear, seemingly out of nowhere, and other faithful members suddenly disappear altogether. Is this not one of the intriguing mysteries of gardening, if we but admit it? What we would miss if we were able to direct the players and keep a tight rein on the production...the unexpected mingling of colors and textures, the good health of plants that have positioned themselves into conditions best for them, the joy of a tiny, unexpected seedling of a favorite flower. 

I have found that life also has a way of offering deep rewards on the other side of what can seem like chaos. Seeds of trust, sometimes barely alive, germinate when I least expect them. Paths that I would never have chosen lead to places that begin to seem like home. Questions that seem to have no answer become less pressing. Sometimes, what seem like the leftovers of my life end up providing the greatest opportunities for growth and self-discovery. I am gradually learning that, through the meanderings and the twists and turns, beauty evolves, as surely as in a bouquet of leftover flowers.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Finding God

The light is slowly fading and dusk is soon is at hand as I sit on my front porch, listening to the end-of-day chorus of Carolina chickadees, titmice, cardinals, a Carolina wren, and a few remaining white throats. Perched in the tall trees surrounding the house, the Cope's grey tree frogs are noisily tuning up and soon I'll hear the bullfrogs in the nearby wetland, as well. The temperatures are cooling and it is time to sit and rest from the hot and sweaty, but immensely satisfying, earlier labor of planting tiny trees in the back section of the yard. All of them, flowering dogwood, red maple, black gum, red oak, and persimmon, began as seeds I collected and sowed in a propagation bed a couple of years ago, though I wasn't exactly sure what I would do with them once they germinated. 

As I sit in gratitude for the fragrances and songs of evening, I am pondering my work in the world, and in the local landscape in which I live...my life's work, really. Though, for these last few years, we have been so fortunate to live in a large swath of woodland, protected by federal scenic easements, I cannot help but embrace a sense of responsibility to this land and to the creatures who live here. Planting for insects, for pollinators of all kinds, for caterpillars who become the foundation of resident and migrant bird populations has become second nature. Planting native fruit and nut bearing tree and shrub species, though I may not live here long enough to see them bear, provides me the deep joy of knowing that the day will come when the local wildlife will benefit from my seeding experiment.

Recently, I was talking with my spiritual director (which is a topic for another day) and she asked me what I most want to do in life. And, without thinking, I blurted out, "I want to walk in the woods and plant things." And so, without really meaning to, I have come to live out my life's work one day at a time. And in living out that work, I have come to know God in the way that is most natural to me.  The ancient Celts believed that God did not create the world out of nothing, but that creation flowed out of Himself, thereby imparting a bit of God in all that is. I find a deep peace in recognizing not just His work, but that bit of Himself, in the woodlands around me, in the soil into which I put my hands, in the whispers of the wind and the frogs who will sing me to sleep tonight. 

May you, as you pay attention to what is around you, find Him too. 

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Gratitude for the Fleeting

In the busyness of your life, of all of our lives, how long has it been since you stopped what you were doing, let go of what you were pondering, set aside your worries and fears and, even just for a moment, drank in the Spring? 

How long has it been since you walked outside your door with no other purpose than to breathe in the fragrances of new growth and moist earth? To listen to bird song, even if you don't know who is who? To notice the seemingly unlimited hues of green that change day by day, right now? To notice the miracle of tiny leaves that seem to grow larger overnight? To welcome this year's new generation of lightening bugs that are twinkling in the night, somewhere nearby?

If there were ever a time to practice noticing, it is now. I encourage you to spend some time outside with no other purpose than just to see what you can see. What might call to you? What might catch your attention and draw you into wonder? 

As I walk our roads lately, I have been reminded of how ephemeral is spring. Maple trees that were crowned with red flowers a few weeks ago are now covered with jaunty red seeds. Pawpaws, that a few days ago sported only their curious deep-purple flowers, are now sprouting tiny, shiny leaves, soon to be food for zebra swallowtail caterpillars. Sassafrases that were almost invisible among the other trees when bare, now boast tufts of fuzzy chartreuse flowers, similar to the green of newly unfurling beech leaves. Black cherries have surprisingly deep pink stipules, at the base of each leaf stalk, present only until the season progresses into summer.

This year, I am reminded that spring, like life itself, is not to be taken for granted. Do you remember that line in Sound of Music, "How can you hold a moonbeam in your hand?" Spring is like that. We can't keep it. We can't even slow it down and therein lies its invitation. It invites us into appreciation for the moment, into joy in the temporary and, into gratitude to the God who lives and moves among all Creation.