Being Present Where You Are

The Tree Peony outside my studio door.

“Where and what your body is living is not where and what your attention is living.”
Nancy Colier, The Power of Off

The woman dressed in black shorts and a bright yellow t-shirt strode ahead of me on the trail to the creek. The magical bird song that I’d been listening to before I caught up to her was gone. In its place was an insistent business like voice asking the person on the other end of the line which stock he or she would recommend to take the place of the loser they had just sold. There was laughter, a few swear words. On and on it went. I noticed a flash of white leap through the brush to her left. A White Tailed Deer, as disturbed as I was by the unnatural sounds, moved out of the way quickly in order to find the peacefulness she’d been experiencing before the interruption.

I had encountered this woman once before on my morning walks at Ivy Creek Natural Area and began wondering if I should change my early morning jaunts to later in the day. But I loved to be there early in the morning before groups of other people arrived and my thoughts were taken up with human busyness. I enjoyed being alone in the forest and fields, fully present to what I was seeing and hearing in this world I mistakenly thought was untouched by technology.

I’m naive that way. When I’m in the woods I expect to be hear wood peckers drumming away on surrounding trees digging for their breakfast. Or watch a doe and her spotted fawn taking in the early morning sun as they graze the grass in the meadow. If I was very lucky, I might see a beaver swimming across the creek, its mouth filled with newly sprouted twigs and leaves. My attention would be as present as my body. The stress I would experience later in the day was no where in sight and my breathing was slow and deep. Being in the natural world has always been my salvation, keeping me sane in what often seems like an insane world.

I know there is no other path ahead that will lead me away from the intruder, so I turn back and look for a way around her. I find another path that ultimately takes me in a different direction. I won’t be heading for the creek which was my destination, but who knows what wonderful sights and sounds will fill my need for this short but sweet inclusion in a world not as taken with itself as the world surrounding this two hundred acre preserve.

When I start the morning here in the woods I know my day will be easier to navigate through than it would be if I had picked up my cell phone as I ate my breakfast. Without the phone spewing messages and emails some are expecting me to answer immediately, I will taste the freshness of blueberries, freshly picked strawberries, the tang of plain yogurt, and the sweetness of honey I drizzle on top. If I choose to turn the phone on all of that will be lost.

I think of that woman walking through the forest, talking on her cellphone, hearing only her own voice, seeing only dollar signs while missing the bright red cardinal flowers blooming along the trail. It seems to me that if she had made that call later, after her walk, her day might have a different ending. We all need to take time away from our busyness and immerse ourselves in places where we can be present and mindful of the world around us.

I’ve too often make the mistake of taking my cell phone outdoors when I sit on my patio. I might miss the hummingbird flitting through the garden if I’m engaged with emails. What do you miss when you let your cell phone take over the present moment?

Coming Back To Life

Spring is here a whole month early. Like many other locations it’s been a warm winter. Some one told me they found a tick on their dog yesterday. We’ve had several near 80 degree days, but mostly the warmest have been in the low 70’s.

Forsythia and magnolias are blooming, along with pears and cherry trees. The last two nights have been well below freezing and there was an article in the paper about how this freeze may effect the peach harvest here in Virginia. Local growers are using fans to keep the air moving around their orchards, but they admit there’s little they can do except pray since climate change is here to stay. I can’t imagine a summer without the sweet juice of peaches running down my arms as I consume them nonstop. Peaches are the best thing about the warmest months and I look forward to them all winter long.

My hellebores are blooming spectacularly this spring. On these frosty mornings they sometimes keel over looking like they’re dead, but once the sun is up and warms the air a bit, they stand taller than ever. They are one of my favorites because they bring color to the garden in February when I need a sign that winter is almost over. At this time of year I do a quick garden tour every day to see which plants are slowly rising above the thick layer of mulch that was put down last month. Orange breasted male robins are fighting over females and on my early morning walks the air is filled with birdsong that brings me joy. Tis the season of rebirth.

On my afternoon walk yesterday afternoon I noticed that someone in the neighborhood had tapped one of their maple trees hoping to gather enough sap to boil down for maple syrup. My brother Reid, now deceased, used to tap a grove of maples in New Hampshire every year when the days warmed above freezing and the nights brought freezing temperatures. He boiled the sap down in large pans over an open fire, coming indoors at the end of the day smelling of fresh air and wood smoke. My pantry was always filled with mason jars of his maple syrup. One year he supplied me with so much that I put it in the freezer thinking it would last longer that way. This past fall I used the last of the pint jars of his amber gold and when it got down to the last quarter of a cup, I wanted to tuck it back in the freezer as a way to keep him near me. Reid has been gone now for seven years. I felt that if I used the last of his gift up, he would be gone for good. But then I made a batch of buckwheat pancakes and used it up, knowing that if I carry him in my heart he’d be with me forever. Those last few drops were a celebration of his life.

Along with the plants, I’m coming to life again too. My burn out is easing and I’m longing to be out in the garden every day. I found myself writing a poem last week for the first time in years. I’m thrilled to be at it again, adding to my series of poems about Mrs. Heartwell, who is part me and every other woman in the world. She’s vulnerable, brave, strong, sensitive, and filled with love. I plan on working on this collection about her that I started almost twelve years ago and make it into a chapbook some day. I may start sharing a few from time to time but for now am sending out some of the series to see if I can get them published in a literary journal or two. Although I enjoyed writing my memoir and using well constructed sentences, I absolutely adore using words sparingly to paint short writings that are free of garble, yet full of power.

Do you find yourself coming back to life at this time of year?

Family Trees

img_0499It’s that wonderful time of year when the leaves turn from their summer green to shades of gold, red, yellow, orange and everything in-between. The colors are especially beautiful in Vermont and New Hampshire at this time of year, when the roads become gridlocked with Leaf Peepers. Like me, those who travel from far away to view the spectacular show of color get the chills at first seeing them and can’t stop pointing out the magnificence that surrounds them as they fly into or drive through the Green Mountains.

Here in Virginia we do have an array of fall colors but not the stunning Crayola colors that we see when going to northern climes. Still it’s lovely and amazing to watch. One of my favorite things to do is to walk slowly on a windy day as the leaves drift all around me. I love the crunch underfoot and the storm of falling foliage overhead, just as much as I love walking through the first snowfall of the season, when my breath steams away and the building layers of snow on the ground quiets the sound of the passing world.

Bill and I both love trees and have always used them to welcome in new babies. After Mark was born in Vermont on a fifty-below-zero night in February, 1967, we planted a tiny weeping willow the following spring to honor him. Three years later when Lisa joined us, we planted another near the first one. We also honored our granddaughter Zoe, with a willow on her first birthday. And three years later when Noah, arrived from Guatemala as a one-year-old, we planted a red bud to honor him.

DSC01649.JPGI’ve just finished reading, The Hidden Life of TREES, What They feel, How They Communicate, Discoveries from a Secret World, by Peter Wohlleben. If like me, you are a nature lover, have been mystified by the life of trees and plants in general, and weep whenever land is cleared of trees for more buildings, here is the story of how these marvels of nature live there lives through hundreds, sometimes thousands of years. They communicate with each other, as they nurture their children and friends through an underground mycelial network of underground fungal species. It’s a marvelous read.

It seems we humans treat our tree and plant friends as badly as we treat our animal friends. It’s time to learn about them and come to their aid. You won’t be disappointed in what you learn in the marvelous book.

Are you a tree hugger?  I am.

At Sixes And Sevens

IMG_0183I’m in one of those in-between places. You know— when you don’t know what to do next or where to start.

The Advanced Reader Copies of my book arrived a few days ago. I need to reread my words again one more time and check for typos. I have a great postcard design with my book cover and a terrific blurb on the front being printed now. I’m working on getting my website updated and plan to do some advance writing for this blog and my newsletter. I’d also like to submit a few personal essays to magazines on and off line to bring attention to my memoir. I’m so wired with excitement that some nights I have a hard time falling asleep.

But on the other hand, it’s spring. The desire to write and do what needs doing in theIMG_0178 studio is being drowned out by the early morning call to be in nature by an amazing variety of birds setting up households in the neighborhood. I have an unbearable urge to devote my time to the natural world and to get my hands dirty. I need to redesign a flower bed I tore apart last fall to bring it new life. I long to stay outdoors all day, visit nearby nurseries and garden centers to see what is available. I love walking down the rows listening to plants shouting out, “Choose me, please! My roots are being suffocated by the blasted pot someone planted me in and I need to escape!” Once rescued and at home, there is then the need to fulfill my promise and set those cramped roots free where they can stretch out, and fulfill their promise to infuse my garden with color and joy.

IMG_0184Then there’s the stuff of everyday living. The laundry, grocery shopping, cooking, veterinarian appointments for an aging dog, my own need for a well deserved nap, and on and on. I print out my weekly calendar each week, then make a list each day of what needs doing. Usually it works well for me and it feels so good to cross items off that scrap of paper as I get them done.

But I the slow pace of winter where my lists were fulfilled each day without difficulty are over. Now there’s the galloping pace of spring. My lists are lengthier and linger into the next day and the day after that. My energy is good but not enough to do it all in one day. Some say it has something to do with my age and the extra time it takes to do things.  It leads to overwhelm and I get stuck in my old patterns of rushing around like an idiot.

So I’m here today to make a public promise to myself that I will not allow my slowness or the too many things to do make me crazy. I will continue at my slower pace and do one thing at a time, reminding myself that when I choose to do something on my list it can not be done half-way. It needs to be done well and thoroughly. If I write a personal essay I must do it the best way I know how and take as long as it needs. If I choose to take a thirty minute nap, I will not lie on my bed and fuss over what I “should” be doing instead.

I think that we could build a new movement of folks like me who don’t want to rush and can easily say, “That’s enough for today. “ Will you join me?

Wynken, Blynken, And Nod


Whinkin and Blinking, Summer 1984

Wynken and Blynken, Summer 1984

Last week on my way to do some grocery shopping I spotted a dead Opossum in the middle of a road in my neighborhood. It had been hit by a car, it’s body crushed. I personally have witnessed a person with no respect for wild critters swerve into another lane to run over a box turtle. I’ve heard others brag that they run over Opossums because they are “ugly, useless animals.” When I saw that poor creature I immediately started blaming someone for the loss of life I saw before me. I didn’t know who to blame, but my first instinct was that is was someone who thought it would be a great sport to kill an innocent animal, out in the winter darkness looking for a meal.

Sad at seeing it lying in the road, I was sent back into my memory bank where Wynken, Blyken, and Nod still reside. They were three baby opossums I had the privilege of rescuing from certain death after they apparently had fallen from their mother’s pouch when a predator, perhaps an owl, was out looking for a feast for his or her own family during a starlit summer evening.

Out for an early morning walk in the countryside where I once lived, I heard strange sounds like high pitched “CHs” coming from the side of the dirt road I was following. It took me a minute or two before I spotted one, two, and then a third tiny creature (about 1 1/2 inches in length), covered with gray fluffy fur.  They had pointy pink snouts, large pink ears and naked tails. Their eyes were still shut tight. I immediately recognized them as baby Opossums. They were struggling in the grass and weeds, calling for their absent mother. I carefully picked them up one by one, and keeping them warm in the palms of my hands, brought them home.

I immediately called a woman in the area who at the time was helping the Wildlife Center of Virginia to care for wild animals who were injured. She told me to find an eyedropper and had me mix of a solution of milk and a few other things to feed them. They were very hungry and took to the dropper immediately. She told me she had a full house and couldn’t take them right away, and asked me if I could keep them until she had room. I got out the large glass fish tank I had stored away, shredded some newspaper and a few rags, and put a small cardboard box in one corner where they could go and cozy up together. They were my charges for only a short few weeks, but they grew rapidly. Nod, the smallest of them, died a week later. I added canned cat food to the remaining two’s diet which they loved. When they saw me coming through their glass enclosure, they struggled to climb out to get something to eat. On sunny days I took them outside into the grass where they clung to me, climbing up my legs and arms and into my hands.

I was in love and though I had to take time to feed them every few hours, I didn’t mind a bit. I often put toilet paper tubes into the aquarium and they would curl their tails around them and carry them around placing them where they wanted them, like a piece of furniture.

Then the call came from the woman who’d been instructing me on how to care for them. She’d be picking them up and taking them to the Wildlife Center the next day, where they’d be rehabilitated back to the wild. I cried. Heartbroken, knew I would never see them again. But having grown up in a household that often had rescued wild animals living amongst us, I knew they would be much healthier and happier living in their own natural world. Sad for days afterward I envisioned them out in the forest learning how to forage for their own food.

Opossums feed on whatever is around, but especially enjoy mice, nuts, berries, carrion of any sort, and chickens if they can gain access to a backyard hen house. They are also known for their appetites for ticks, those creepy little blood-suckers whose bites can cause Lyme disease.

Please Don’t Harm Opossums! They may look like rats, but they are beautiful in their own right and very valuable animals to have around.

The Day after I saw the the dead Opossum up the street, my daughter sent me this video in honor of those three little friends of ours!