Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Art of Change - The Christmas Tree


In 1980, my grandmother – the original Maryjane – gave me a few boxes filled with some of her favorite Christmas tree ornaments that she had collected over the years. It was my first Christmas away from home. Most of the decorations were metallic, colored balls with frosty glitter – some with scenes, others with traditional holiday greetings and my favorite ones had musical notations.

At the time that she gave me these ornaments, she was obviously deeply involved in felt craft. She included an assortment of little Santa and Elf mice with jiggly button-like eyes. I think that she may have made them for a church function where she and other older women sat around in the frigid church multi-function room beneath the sanctuary, toting glue guns and scraps of material, making things for their fairs while eating cookies and drinking strong coffee from an oversized urn.

I never really liked the felt mice, but felt obligated to take care of them, place them on the tree and carefully pack them away every year. At first I bothered to re-glue the eyes when they fell off, but after nine or ten years I just hung the one eyed rodents on random branches to fill in the gaps, paying tribute to my grandmother who passed away in 1989.

The decoration collection grew enormously when I became a mother. Not only did I honor my grandmother’s ornaments, I maintained a collection for each of my three children. Decorating the tree was a joyous yet serious event; we always enjoyed homemade sweets, eggnog and music, which was the pulse of our family during this activity. Each child had his or her own box of decorations and with careful deliberation they hung them on the tree. My grandmother’s ornaments were a part of the tradition. Even when a mouse did not make it onto a heavy bough, they were acknowledged in some way – through conversation or finding a lost eye in the bottom of the box. I still have them or at least most of their parts.

One by one, my children grew up and one by one they left our cozy nest. I tried to keep our traditions alive while they were out in the world so that when they returned home for the holidays, they would be able to celebrate with everything as it should be.

The transition from motherhood to crone is one that requires patience, love and acceptance. At first I worked tirelessly at trying to keep everything the same, or at least recognizable. I am relieved to report that after a few years of a somewhat difficult, white knuckled approach, I acknowledge the fact that change is inevitable; I embrace it.

Something as basic as a Christmas tree provides a fine example of transition and positive growth. It takes a great deal of effort to decorate and un-decorate a Christmas tree alone – especially using mementos that represent my entire life including the raising of my family. After my children went away, I began to dread lugging heavy boxes and feeling overwhelmed when I unpacked each ornament that came with an abundance of touching memories.

When my kids returned home from different corners of the world, they loved seeing the familiar twinkling tree. We sat down and enjoyed all of our customary home baked sweets, played music and celebrated our family love. After the holidays… when they left... it was just the tree and me. I dreaded the task of dissembling the mass of memories. Whether or not you have help, it is a chore. It is especially haunting when you are doing it alone. In the past I did not mind packing away holiday stuff because we were in the midst of our busy lives. That was then; this is now.

Last Christmas, when I was taking down the tree, I faced the reality that it had become a burden. I was going to great lengths to maintain tradition, even when its face had become quite different. Until this year, I was unable to look into that face.

Last week it just happened; I did not plan it. When I stood before the plain balsam fir tree, I decided to try something different. The previous week, I crafted many arrangements out of berries, twigs and bark. I try to walk in the woods every day; I tend to revert to my ancient ‘gatherer’ roots. Our house is adorned with natural décor and it was time to extend this art to the Christmas tree.

With pruning shears in hand and a cloth sack draped over my arm, I set out on my usual path in the woods and began harvesting. Before I came into the house, I stopped by the remnants of my herb garden and cut mugwort and grapevines. I did not take anything that showed promise of thriving.

After stringing small white lights on the tree, I embarked upon a new creative adventure. First I tied bunches of grapevine, mugwort and an assortment of small twigs to the entire length of the trunk of the tree so that they looked as if they were a part of it. From there I added milk weed pods that had released their feathery seeds, along with freshly fallen, pitch coated, pine cones. I even stuck clumps of burdock on the ends of tree limbs. I threaded hemp through oyster mushrooms that look like angels and made trees out of lichen covered bark, topped with a birch bark star.

Nothing was wasted. I crafted snowmen out of birch bark and constructed nests from various mosses and grapevine. I dried apples and oranges and made stacks and garland with cinnamon sticks. I also used dried apples as a base for moss covered wreaths. I strung fresh cranberries with hemp for garland. I created angels in flight using pine cones for the body, birch bark for the wings and head, twigs, hemp and moss hair, and bark for facial features and a partial berry for the mouth.

This project took several days to complete. I rifled through bags and piles of natural offerings and continued to create. The only tradition on the tree is the angel on top that my daughter Anna made when she was four-years-old.

At first I was in conflict; I thought that my family would be expecting the customary Christmas tree laced with a lifetime of memories. I don’t want to disappoint them. I decided that they are welcome to get the boxes and add whatever they wish to the tree.

In the future, if we have an opportunity to be together before Christmas, I will enjoy going through the boxes and decorating the tree with my family. In that case, it will not be a burden. I will probably save a few of the decorations that I made this year, but for the most part, the tree is organic and I will place it outdoors with ease. The birds can pick at the cranberries, apples and oranges and I will hang suet from the boughs. After they strip the goodies, it can go into the fire pit for a raging bonfire later in the season.

Life changes. Everything that is important cannot be tucked into boxes and then unpacked to bring back the past. It is important to preserve memories, but it is more important to accept change and be in the moment.

The tree is a symbol of how I live my life every day, here and now. I honor the tree and I honor life, which is well worth celebrating.

Journal - Periwinkle

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Perfect Christmas Tree


The snowflakes drifted down from the pinkish gray skies, lingering long enough on my red snowsuit for me to marvel at the intricate fractals. They were the kind of snowflakes that prompted me to throw my head back and catch them on my tongue, and made me dizzy when I stared upwards into the endless passageway to the enchantment of winter.

I held on tightly to the sides of the wooden Speedway sled, jerking with each tug as my father trudged through the deep snow, into the woods beyond the old covered bridge that led to my Uncle’s cabin. Every time we approached Durgin Bridge, my father told us to close our eyes and make a wish and then he would toot the horn of his 1958 Buick.

My father spoke sternly to my two older sisters as they wandered dangerously close to the banks of the raging waters of Cold River. I focused on their brightly colored stocking caps – like our mittens and socks, knit by our mother – bouncing along behind them. Their laughter blended with the melodic rushing river, resonating throughout the otherwise silent woods. A part of me longed to frolic with them, but even back then I was wise enough to know that the snow was unmanageable.

We had a ways to go until we reached my Uncle’s land. My father – a true woodsman in his customary red and black checked wool coat with his tree saw slung over his shoulder – blazed a clear path through the virgin snow. For an instant, I let go of the sled for a taste of snow mixed with wool from the tip of my mitten, but quickly grabbed the edge of the sled again when almost toppling over the side.

We stopped abruptly when we reached the top of the knoll and pondered the possibilities sprawled before us. Black-capped Chickadees and Nuthatches flit excitedly in and out of the nearby woodland garden of Evergreens and abundant Winterberries.

My sisters climbed onto the sled and my father gave us a push. We sped down the hill, narrowly missing saplings and rocks, finally stopping at the edge of a cluster of burdocks and managing to get a few stuck hopelessly on hats and mittens.

My shiny red boots quickly filled with snow as I followed my sisters rushing from one tree to the next while my father explained his reasoning for why we could not take each one home. He taught us to leave the trees that had hopes of flourishing and growing to be healthy amongst the others in the woods. It was vital to find a tree that would not thrive and that cutting it down would help not hurt the future of the grove.

We finally decided upon a charming, wildly imperfect, Balsam Fir. It struggled courageously, wedged between another heartier pine tree and enormous rock. I stood by examining a pitch covered pine cone as my father sawed the tree and my sisters made snow angels and repeatedly sang Jingle Bells.

The snowfall increased greatly and the wind blew hard. My father held the tree with one hand and pulled the rope on the sled with the other and we headed back to the car. My sisters walked beside me, teaching me the words to Silent Night and trying to pull the deeply embedded burdocks from their mittens.

The light of day was quickly fading as my father tied the tree onto the top of the car. Shivering and with reddened cheeks, we climbed into the car, eager to bring the tree home to our mother who we were sure was waiting with hot chocolate and fresh baked cookies.

Without our father’s prompting, we closed our eyes and made a wish while he did the traditional toot of the horn and we crossed Durgin Bridge with our Christmas tree tied firmly to the roof.

I didn’t realize until many years later that when we crossed Durgin Bridge, it wasn’t really about wishes, but to warn possible approaching vehicles. However, to this day, I continue to toot the horn when I approach the bridge and I tell my own children to make a wish.


** Historical Note

“The current bridge is the fourth one on this site, the others being washed away in 1844, 1865 and 1869. In 1869, the freshet was so violent that iron bolts used to connect the great bed pieces of the middle pier to a large rock were twisted and broken. The iron bolts were two inches in diameter. The existing bridge was built by Jacob Berry of North Conway. Berry claimed that the bridge was so strong that it could be filled with wood without causing it to fail. There is no evidence that anyone ever attempted to prove his theory. The bridge is named for James Holmes Durgin who ran a grist mill nearby. The bridge was also a link in the underground slave railroad from Sandwich to North Conway. Milton Graton and his son Arnold repaired and strengthened the structure in 1967-1968. It was rehabilitated in 1983 at a cost of $48,000. The Durgin Bridge is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.”
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http://www.nh.gov/nhdhr/bridges/p85.html >

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Tree Pulse: The Art of Tree Hugging

In the past when I hugged a tree, it was for an entirely different reason; the pulse is new to me. Of course I did not plan on becoming an expert in the art of tree hugging. However, I am what one would refer to as an authentic tree hugger.

It happened unexpectedly one morning when I was overcome with emotion while standing in the middle of a shady, deep, well established, pine grove. I didn’t know what to do. I thought of screaming (a good healthy scream), but decided against shattering the peaceful dawn chorus.

Suddenly, I found myself embracing a giant pine – well over one hundred years of age – my arms didn’t come close to reaching the halfway point. I gained a new respect for the forest and will never view a tree the same way again.

There is a gathering of young trees in a clearing behind the house. I first became a part of this sacred circle when I felt the pulse of the smallest tree, which I believe to be a Silver Maple. When leaning with my back against it, I sensed a strong, throbbing, rhythm. It reminded me of my childhood days when we dared to touch the electric fence, only without the painful jolt.

I tried to understand where this pulse was coming from. I considered that the young tree was absorbing water from the nearby, swollen, pond that had been dry for the past few months. Then I imagined that it could possibly be the heart beat of the Earth and that tendrils from the tree’s woody roots were woven intricately around a vein, tapping into Gaia’s life source.

The cluster consists of a mix of Ash and Maple with various smaller plants such as High Bush Cranberries and an assortment of Evergreens along the border. I approached each tree within the circle – also young, but bigger in diameter and a bit taller – and pressed against them in search of a pulse. I did not detect any pounding whatsoever. Perhaps Bach was inspired by such a phenomenon when he composed his Cello Suites or Violin Sonatas and Partitas, as the Silver Maple was unaccompanied.

I am an artist, historian, and naturalist… not a scientist. In the wild, I operate on past experience, pure logic and trust my intuition. Being inquisitive is a trait that I honor and it often leads to a great deal of research. However, this time I didn’t rush to the computer or bookshelf immediately in an effort to comprehend why the tree had what seemed to be a heartbeat. I preferred to simply relish the possibility instead.

About a week later I returned to the circle and leaned against the young tree. The pulse was reassuring. I wondered what it would feel like if I pressed my own heart against the rough, greenish speckled, bark. I sensed the rhythm, but for some reason the sensation was more pronounced through my spine.

Again, the other trees – without a distinguishable pulse – stood by as silent witnesses. Pondering the tree, I returned to my walk in the woods. I decided that I didn’t need to know; it is more significant to accept it and be grateful.

It is uplifting to see the tree outside of the window. When I go out to visit the pond and walk in the woods, it has become a ritual to pay my respects to the sacred circle and unite with the tree. At times the pulse is minimal, yet always detectable. I have related it to the underground water flow as this region is abundant with aquifers. It may or may not be the source.

When I feel the heavy hand pressing down upon my chest (as I do from time to time), I find myself amongst the inner circle. One afternoon as I stared at the crown of the youngest, at its wiry, leafless branches waving against an unpredictable sky, I knew that I mustn’t become dependent on the comfort, hope, or surge of energy that I experience while in unison.

When I approached the tree this morning, I embraced it with my own heart beating against the slender trunk. The others remained steadfast, nodding quietly in the mild, damp, wind – awareness emerged from grayness. It is human nature to grasp tightly onto the good things – things that we think that we love, not wanting to let go in fear of losing it and tragically not realizing the power of the ultimate grip of death, which does not only apply to living organisms, but to thoughts and dreams as well.

I breathe a sigh of relief knowing that if I rely on the tree, I am not honoring the experience for its worth. We are to be mutual in our existence.

Journal: Scarlet Lily – Babies Breath
                (Higher Souled Aspirations - Nature)

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Apples, Carrots, Intention

For the past few weeks or so, I have heard gunshots echoing in the woods. I always get mixed up as to whether it is muzzle, crossbow or the basic, open hunting season that I remember as a child. I know that muzzle and crossbow come first.

My father was a hunter. He wore a red and black plaid shirt and I think he also wore a red wool hunting vest with matching pants. It was mandatory for all of us to wear something bright red during hunting season so that we would not be mistaken for a deer and shot. I never thought much of it at the time. I would simply pull on a red sweater or bandana – whatever I could find – before running off to play. It wasn’t a big deal.

It finally occurred to me just how dangerous this whole hunting business could be when I had my own children. We lived on top of a remote mountain, on a rutty dirt road, surrounded by a good thousand acres of national forest.

I would not allow my children to play in the woods during hunting season. It isn’t that my parents did or did not permit us to go in the woods. It wasn’t good and it wasn’t bad; it was a different time, back when Daniel Boone (Fess Parker) was my hero. Other than the mandatory red in the dress code; there was no distinction between hunting season and any other season.

Not only did I insist that my kids wear red; they were to stay in the yard. I even put red collars on some of my goats. Of course the Nubians wouldn’t keep theirs on; they are impossible. However, the Toggenbergs were agreeable, which was a good thing; their characteristics are quite similar to the White Tail Deer.

Whether it was a 21 gun salute at a ceremony where I waited patiently to play taps on my trumpet, a full blown Howitzer in a Civil War Reenactment, or cannon fire aboard the USS Constitution, I had a tendency to feel gunshots in my chest and the pit of my stomach. Even when the shots are far away – like in the woods during hunting season – I feel it.

I know that there are many people who hunt to fill their freezers with meat, which is honorable. In addition to hunting for food, my Abenaki ancestors used hides and skins for clothing, shelter, and for making various items from bones and other parts. Nothing was wasted. They asked permission before hunting and they gave thanks upon killing. Whatever was left over was ceremoniously offered to the fire with the understanding that the animal spirit(s) would return to the hunting grounds.

Personally, I struggle with consuming meat. It is my understanding that animals are here for sustaining life, however I do not feel right about farm animals (even those that are treated with care and although they are here for a short time, live a humane life). There is something underhanded about taking an animal as a baby, providing it with food, water, shelter and earning trust as a caregiver, just to turn around and slaughter and eat it.

There is a vast difference between hunting and raising animals for meat. I am still working this out in my heart, which is where I do my most important thinking.

I have been integrating more plants into my diet and gradually pulling away from meat. It is a spiritual, emotional and lately a physical choice, as meat has become unappealing. I know that last year was the final nudge that confirmed this way of thinking and being. After nurturing two pigs (while making minimal eye contact in order to alleviate the weirdness after slaughter), I fell flat.

Although I arranged to be out of the viewing range of their execution and stuffed in my earplugs, for some reason, at the last moment, I found myself looking out the window as the scene unfolded. I perceived missing this experience as missing an opportunity. Opportunities come with a price. As unpleasant as it was, I wanted to witness this act as an artist. I wanted to be able to write about the raw experience of watching pigs get shot point blank in the head. It was powerful and has served me well in the creative sense; however my perception of being a carnivore has shifted dramatically. (No more bacon).

The pig incident occurred a little less than one year ago. Much has happened in such a short spell. Throughout it all, I have preserved my essential bond with Our Mother and her inhabitants. I have maintained several feeding stations for birds of all seasons and a Monarch Waystation; I revel in Wildcraft, Herbs and a plentiful garden. I sit outside at night and watch the sky while listening to peepers, owls, coyotes, baby moose and a myriad of other voices. By day I view the winged ones, gaze out over the pond, sit in stillness and consider an unfamiliar sky that has lost its innocence with manmade clouds that fail in the way of integrity and art stuff.

I have come within a few feet of two bears – an adult and a yearling that I caught on camera. I have re-established my friendship with a chipmunk that I call Yeshua just because that is the name that fit when I lived on another great mountain prior to this rambling valley.

Just after hearing the first gunshots that heralded the beginning of deer hunting season, I was outdoors collecting red clover when I saw a four point buck meandering through the bushes in the back yard. Instead of leaping and running as deer often do, he paused and looked straight at me. In fear of frightening him, I held my breath; I wanted to connect. We both froze and continued staring at one another with wide brown eyes. I exhaled. He jerked as if he was going to bolt, but he changed his mind and took a few steps towards where the pine grove once was. I sensed his urge to flee; he resisted. I appreciated that about him.

In my mind I clearly stated my intention, please stay…you are safe here…you can trust me. He gave me one more curious glance and then took his time walking up the hill, stopping to nibble on the random new growth that found its way through the ashes of old. I watched until he disappeared into the shadowy darkness of the giant pines beyond the mossy stone wall.

Last night, just before sunset, I went outdoors. After careful thought, I decided which areas were favorable to scatter carrot and apple peels and cores. I overlooked the two established compost piles because I intended for these scraps to be specifically for the deer. The wind blew hard; the pine boughs waved recklessly while the remaining leaves clung tightly to the branches of the hardwood trees.

I emptied the bowl of scraps and looked up the hill where the buck had gone a week earlier. I scraped the carrot peels from the bottom of the bowl, took a deep breath and thought, this is for the deer.

The wind blew harder; I pulled my hood up over my head and returned to the warm house where the fire was crackling in the woodstove in the kitchen. I stood at the sink and rinsed the bowl as I looked out the window, pleased that I had put the scraps where I had a good view.

The next morning as I was pouring a cup of coffee, I had a sudden impulse to look up. Standing outside of the window was a young buck fawn – a yearling. At first I thought that it was a doe, but then I saw the little nubs of starter antlers. Again I held my breath and watched. He knew that I was watching, even though I was indoors. He was as aware of me as I was of him.

Like the grand elder that walked before him, this buck trusted me and the land. He explored and took his time moving up the hill, paying homage to the remains of a once majestic pine grove whilst nibbling on new growth that could only come after a death of such magnitude.

The joy that I felt within is almost indescribable. I intended to provide trust and compassion with deer. I expressed this clearly as I scattered carrots and apples.

After he vanished into the woods, I went outdoors. He didn’t eat the carrots and may have eaten the apples, I am not certain. However, it is not about carrots or apples; it is about intention.

Journal: 'Scarlett Lily'- (High Souled Aspirations)

Monday, October 24, 2011

It’s Never Too Late – The Patience of the Autumn Harvest

                                   

Last summer, I was hopelessly drawn to the contrasting shades of purple and pink oregano flowers that swayed boldly within a sea of inexhaustible mugwort. Taking care to avoid stepping on a resident garter snake, I blazed my way through the rushy overgrowth to bathe in the sweet, yet pungent aroma of the sensuous world of ancient herbs, bees and butterflies.

It is customary to pluck a green leaf, roll it between my finger and thumb, and seemingly without limit, inhale the bruised remains before taking it into my mouth to chew; leaving an almost peppery memory for a good part of the afternoon.

Along with Our Mother, I celebrate, nurture and harvest a variety of herbs, flowers and berries. The flowering plants provide a sustainable environment for butterflies, bees and hummingbirds as well as many other creatures.

In an effort to support and protect the Monarch butterfly, I maintain an official Monarch Waystation. The Monarch’s existence and ability to carry on successive generations and sustain their wondrous migration are threatened by the loss of habitat in North America. This is due mainly to the destruction of wetlands and other areas favorable for growing milkweed and various nectar producing flowers, the use of toxic herbicides, urban development and roadside mowing. Also, genetically modified plants have replaced plants that once provided a source of nectar. Land use has shifted dramatically to support the growing of soybean and corn, contributing to the loss of former, more balanced agricultural practices. These and other conditions have devastated many vital, fragile eco-systems.

Therefore, as I stood amongst the radiating, flowering mints, I marveled at the industrious bees, butterflies and hummingbirds flitting about; I stopped. The blend of diverse tones of an assortment of bees made perfect harmony with the lowest pitch being produced by the traditional, fuzzy, yellow and black, bumble bee.

Many times as I was about to reach down and snip a few stalks of oregano to add to my own hearty soups and stews, this untainted chorus would act like a strong arm and hold me back. I paused, scrunched down near the ground at eye level with the winged creatures, unable to literally cut the source of their pleasure and sustenance. Although originally intended for culinary and medicinal use; I simply could not deprive them; doing so would be to deny myself.

The butterflies – not only the Monarchs – delighted in all that flowered and cloaked the gentle, thriving hillside. Although they busied themselves on elderberries, cat mint, red and white clover and too many others to mention, they loved the oregano the most. I filled my basked with an abundance of what grew last summer, but I would leave the oregano as it were.

At the end of a golden afternoon, as the onset of winter brushes against my temples, I realize that the chorus of that sacred space amidst the mugwort is now far and away.

Last night we had a frost. The morning sun tried to work its way through willful clouds. I looked out the window and wondered if it was too late. What remained? I quickly braided my hair, buttoned my red plaid shirt and headed outside with my basket and scissors. The mugwort –flourishing, profoundly green, unaffected by surrounding death – reached my chin. I entered into the reminiscence of summer harmony, where a patch of oregano wearing a veil of faded purple tinged with ivory pink, waited patiently for me.

Journal: Babies Breath

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Autumn Illuminated: Always the Pond

By day, I bathe in the golden light illuminated by the onset of brilliant reds, yellows and oranges emerging in leaves of the abundant trees that surround me. The crispness in the air stimulates the part of my brain that wants to bake things made from apples, cinnamon and pumpkins. The scent of a wood fire reminds me that it is time to cook chili on the cast iron stove and pull out my well-worn, oversized, flannel nightie.

I wander; look at the uncertain sky and remnants of the garden. I sit on the same old wide log that serves as my bench, not caring if I get pine pitch on my clean shorts and ignoring the mosquitoes that have no business being here so far into the next season. I stare out over the pond – leaves fall and land on the mirror-like surface, barely moving. Anxiety attempts to seep in when I half expect the things that I released in the thick heat of summer to rise to the top, reminding me of that which remains.

I think that something bigger is rustling about in the woods and I turn, prepared to face a bear or moose; red squirrels mock me with their shrill chatter and carry on with the exaggerated sounds of their jerky movements on the carpet of dry, dead leaves.

The chipmunk that used to eat from my hand last summer pokes its head out from a crevice in the Prayer Rock. His cheeks are filled to capacity. I speak aloud; congratulating him on his success in relocating after the Broad Winged Hawk forced him away from his home near my front porch. We continue to look at one another straight in the eyes. He pulls back, disappearing into the blackness of the small hole.

I return my focus to the pond. There are so many possible places to rest my eyes in order to find the stillness essential in maintaining the balance that I seek, yet understand is not what is necessary to prevail. The uncertainty as well as the certainty keeps me aware and alive. There is so much to see; I decide that I will look in between the physical matter and contemplate the space.

It is impossible to ignore the swaying, slender, green reeds in the pond. Two nearby leaves seem to be suspended in the air. I search for the stalk that supports them and decide that I would rather perceive them as floating.

Journal: Babies Breath (Nature) 10-11-2011.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Apple Trees, Wheelbarrows and Herding Cats

If men were trees, I would consider Mr. Dearborn to be an apple tree. Stooped, honest and unassuming, his crooked limbs turned outward, his trunk although solid, was twisted and thick, and his joints were gnarled and interesting. His grayish face – like aged bark – was lined with experience. He was usually expressionless except for an occasional look of wonder. I do not remember hearing him speak; only murmuring a few sounds that carried an occasional whistle.

The fruit that he bore came in the form of cats. Mr. Dearborn had at least fifty cats if not more, which to a seven year old girl, was much better than apples.

He lived on the road that led to Sandwich Notch, up a ways on the left hand side, across from our long time family friend, Maisey Bloomberg. There wasn’t a Mrs. Dearborn or offspring that we knew about. He was simply an old man who no one bothered to notice, until that summer when my sister Susan, friend Lynn and I discovered his feral barn cats, soon to be the focal point of our very existence.

At first we were a bit skeptical, unsure of how we would be able to play with the fascinating felines without interacting with the old man. We thought about just going into his yard and playing with them but we might get in trouble, and no one in town seemed to say much about Mr. Dearborn. We never saw him at the store or the post office; we only caught glimpses of him in his window or shuffling out to his small, boarded up barn where the cats jumped and played.

Finally Lynn moved ahead with the direct plan, the one that required courage and was obviously the only one that would work. She and Susan stood on the wide granite slab step and Lynn knocked hard on the weathered oak door. I stood on the grassy stoop watching the kitties frolic. I knew that if Mr. Dearborn did something unimaginable, I could run really fast.

The door opened a crack and he leaned forward. “Hmmmmmm?” His oval, gold rimmed glasses were fogged and he had a large tan hearing aide on one ear.

“Can we play with your cats?” Lynn put her hands on her hips; Susan smiled.

“Hmmmm?” He ran his fingertips across the white fuzz on his head.

“Your cats! Can we play with your cats?” Lynn shouted. I was proud and hoped that when I was ten-years-old that I would be so brave.

Susan pointed to the back yard where even more cats were filing out of a crack in the wall of the barn. “Cats.”

It was muggy, too hot for him to be wearing a tattered brown sweater buttoned all the way up to his chin. He looked over his glasses beyond Susan and Lynn and set his sights on me. I shrugged my shoulders just in case we were overstepping our bounds.

He may have smiled; I’m not sure. He scratched his head again. “Yesssss. I ‘spose.” He turned and shut the door.

We dashed through town and on to Lynn’s house and got her Aunt Ginny’s wheelbarrow. Lynn had an elaborate plan, and that was to create a village for the cats. We would name them and assign a family and abode to each cat lucky enough to be selected.

“Hey! Where are you girls going with that wheelbarrow?” Billy rode towards us on his red Stingray bike with a banana seat and slammed on the brakes leaving rubber on the asphalt.

“We’re going to get some cats from Mr. Dearborn’s and bring them down to Ginny’s to play.” Susan always leveled with Billy. Lynn turned her nose up and kept pushing.

“Does Ginny know?” Billy did a wheelie and stood holding his handle bars, front wheel in the air spinning.

“Mind your beeswax.” Lynn rolled her eyes.

Like everyone else who interacted with Lynn, Billy did as he was told. He mounted his bike and rode towards the playground where minding his beeswax would be enjoyable.

When we got to Mr. Dearborn’s house, Lynn brought the wheelbarrow out to the barn. We immediately started chasing cats and putting them in the wheelbarrow. I went after a gray cat; it squirmed and scratched me with its back claws. I tossed him in and wiped the blood from my arm onto my pedal pushers. Susan and Lynn were screeching and trying to keep the cats from escaping. Mr. Dearborn looked out the window, scratching his head.

We came up with a method of transporting the cats. Lynn pushed the wheelbarrow; Susan held the cats down in the cart and when one hopped out, I chased it and returned it to the cart. We managed to transport five cats at a time. It took us hours just to make it less than a quarter of a mile down the road.

This activity required a great deal of time and became our pursuit for a better part of the summer. There were about a dozen cats willing to participate and cooperate as much as felinely possible – they were appropriately named and took their rightful place in the pecking order in the great compound that we created for them.

All of us became accustomed to the drill. Gather the cats, fuss and fumble with them until they are in the wheelbarrow, capture the ones that escape and herd them into the compound.

On my eighth birthday, Susan, Lynn and I were climbing my favorite maple tree (not too far from the compound) when I fell. I dislocated my shoulder and my elbow suffered a compound fracture. I was in the hospital for over a month in traction.

When I came home from the hospital, I was elated when Susan and Lynn presented me with my favorite cat Smokey – a gray short hair with emerald green eyes. Apparently Lynn and Susan told Mr. Dearborn of my accident and asked if they could give me one of the cats as a present. He agreed, which we girls thought was so generous. I preferred Smokey over all the others when we first met and began our cat escapades. He was mellow and seemed unaffected by the antics of the others – both human and feline.

Now I have returned to Sandwich. When I drive through the desolate village I conjure a clear vision of three young girls giggling, scolding and managing fidgety cats hopping in and out of a wheelbarrow. I cannot help but smile hard and even laugh at that memory. I am proud of our determination and the victorious outcome. We did not give up.

When I am on my way towards Sandwich Notch and I pass by Mr. Dearborn’s house – now boarded up – I think I see the shadow of a dead apple tree stooped over the granite step with a cat perched in the crook of the outstretched limb. I hesitate and sometimes almost turn around to see if it will come to me. But I continue on and smile as I recall how herding cats was wicked fun.

From Journal "Marigold"

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Dancing With My Mother – A Story of Mothers, Daughters, Love and Music

I fought back tears and tried to focus on the scenery as we drove down Route 4 in New Hampshire, also known as Antique Alley. I did not embrace ‘having a day off’ as my husband put it. I wanted to celebrate Mother’s Day with my children. The most fantastic omelet in the world and a day of antiquing didn’t make up for their absence.

Based on choices – a career as a professional trumpet player and with my husband’s support – I was able to stay at home with my children. In fact, I was able to home educate them and eventually have a small farm. I was blessed. But like everything in life, there are plusses and minuses. Unfortunately, I was divorced from my children’s father. This proved to be a great hardship.

That weekend in 1995 – like too many other weekends – overflowed with worry and sadness while my children were on visitation with their father. My husband and my ex-husband were all for sticking with the schedule, not making an exception for Mother’s Day. It really didn’t matter what they thought; it was about my children and me. I wanted to be with them on Mother’s Day (everyday for that matter) and they wished the same. However, at that time we did not have a voice like we do now.

I was listening to NPR when the amazing sound of a woman’s earthy and pure voice captured my attention.

My mother stands in the kitchen of my childhood
Slicing and dicing, stirring, white apron on
Drinking cold coffee
Mixing, baking, serving, caring, listening…

She instantly resonated with me. I turned up the volume. Her narrative segued into a beautiful folk song about dancing with her mother. Where are you? Dancing, with my mother… The last line blew me away when a little girl sang sweetly to her mother.

I lost it. Tears streamed down my cheeks as I scrambled for a pen to write down the name of the artist. Rachel Bissex. My pen didn’t work so I recited her name repeatedly in my head until we arrived at the next antiques shop. I rifled through the glove box and found another pen, scribbled her name on a piece of scrap paper and tucked it into my pocketbook.

My mother rocks in the bedroom of my childhood
Her guitar a silhouette against the window
Where the white sheer curtains hang
And the headlights come
[…]
And she’s singing to me
And she’s singing to the moon
And she’s singing about lost love…

The words could have come from my own pen. I sang to my children day and night…it was all about the moon and love and longing. We always played music together; it fed our hungry souls.

When I finally purchased a copy of the CD, I listened to it over and over again. I connected with Rachel and especially that song. I took my daughter Anna into my arms and danced. It became a tradition. When I had that maternal melancholy or deep need to bathe in the love shared with my only daughter, we danced. Our dancing was not restricted to this one song; we also enjoyed boogying to the songs of the Andrews Sisters and Lady Marmalade to name a few. However, Dancing with my Mother was “our” song. It defined us, indeed.

My brothers embarrassed
But we didn’t care
Emotions were meant to be shared…

When we danced together my sons also watched and wondered. Sometimes they thought it was silly or trivial but they knew to honor and respect our feminine rituals, which continue to evolve magnificently.

Our bond strengthened through our cello playing; we shared many years of duets and eventually sat side by side in the symphony.  Music forms a powerful union, when added to the strength of the umbilical cord, it is unsurpassable.

A few years later, Anna and I decided that we would dance to this song at her wedding; we would have a mother / daughter dance.

Anna is now a traveling, busking musician and I do not see her as often as I would like, but she is living her life accordingly and I have practiced letting go. We stay in touch via cell phone at least once or twice a week. I watch her music videos on You Tube and peek at her facebook page to follow the steps of her journey (I have sworn to keep concerns and opinions in check, a common rule for many parents and their offspring on facebook).

One day last year when I was missing Anna, I decided to post Dancing with my Mother on her facebook page. I went onto You Tube to search. I was disappointed because I couldn’t find it. I then googled Rachel Bissex and was saddened to read that she passed away. It was such a devastating loss for someone who I had never met.

Last night, well after midnight, I got a text message from Anna, “I know it’s ridiculously late right now, but I have really exciting news for you tomorrow! It has to do with ‘Dancing with my Mother’

Thunder rumbled and shook the house. The rain was coming down so hard that I could hear it over the fan that I had set on high. I thought it couldn’t rain harder, but it did. I rubbed my eyes and sat up. Oh my God. Anna’s getting married. I panicked and played a series of wedding videos written and directed by me through my head. I texted her: “Do not get married yet, please? We need to talk…You are so young to make a lifetime commitment. I am awake if you want to call. Love you.”

Awake? I was buzzing. Anna is twenty two-years-old with her life ahead of her. She clearly indicated that she wasn’t interested in getting married until she was older. What happened? My mind started to fill in the blanks. I glanced at my cell phone on the bedside table in hopes that it would light up, vibrate, or make some sort of annoying sound. Nothing.

I grabbed it and started typing, “I have some really good ideas that honor your love and union…some insight from a wise woman who loves her daughter…all positive and full of love for you both…xx”

I fluffed the pillows and tried to get comfortable. I stared into the darkness and did what I always did when I knew that some things were going to happen whether I liked them or not. I started to pray for strength, clarity and acceptance. I prayed for the ability to let go of that which is not mine. I refused to panic, yet I could not sleep.

How can she text me something like that at 2:00 AM and then leave me hanging? My way of not panicking sometimes includes driving the point home, at least initially. I texted her one more time: “Long engagements are good…I would like that a lot…am smiling…call me in the morning and share…I am glad that you are happy…goodnight sweetheart…”

I didn’t want to be anticipating a response, so the goodnight part was my own license to sleep. Fat chance. I was careful to let Anna know that I loved her and I kept it positive when it was in fact not at all what I hope for her right now. It was a blow.

The rain slowed to a steady rhythm. I finally relaxed and found a comfortable position when my cell phone lit up the room, vibrated and chimed. I reached for it and read the message from Anna: “Ha ha, nooooooo, just wait til morning, its something you would never guess.”

Sigh. I responded: “Okay…xo”

I passed out.

In the morning I sat on the front porch watching humming birds, sipping coffee and wondering what on earth Anna was talking about. She specifically mentioned the song that we have known will be our dance song on her wedding day. What else could it be?

She finally called me at 11:30 and told me the story.

She was sitting at a table at her favorite spot in Burlington, Vermont – the Radio Bean Café. A girl approached her and complimented her necklace, which is a violin bridge. Anna told her that she was a cellist and someone had given her the bridge and she had no use for it so she crafted it into a necklace.

The girl then told her that she was a violinist. Her name is Emma and she and Anna shared an extraordinary list of all that they had in common. They are both classically trained and have discovered new genres of music. Both have strong maternal connections. Their mothers instilled such a passion for music that they have tattooed symbols of this passion on their bodies, which is what sparked their connection. Emma’s father is a trumpet player. They both have two brothers. Synchronicity.

Anna showed Emma the tattoo of “F holes” on her back, giving the illusion that she is a human cello. Emma then showed Anna the tattoo on her back. It was the music and lyrics of Dancing with my Mother.

Anna started to read it and then realized that it was our song. She exclaimed, “I know that song, that’s my mother’s and my song!”

Emma told her that her mother wrote it. Anna was ecstatic and asked if she was the little girl who sang in the piece. Emma said that she was; she was seven years old at the time. They embraced. Anna told her that she could not believe she was sitting with the little girl whose voice she listened to throughout her life whilst dancing with her own mother.

Emma shared her love and the sorrow of losing her mother to breast cancer six years earlier. The two young women – daughters – shared their stories and both comprehend the significance of their meeting. They plan to stay connected and honor their unique bond which encompasses the profound love that encircles mothers and daughters illuminated in the light of music.

Lyrics - Rachel Bissex, Don't Look Down, 'Dancing with my Mother', alcazar productions, Waterbury VT, 1995.

From Journal: “Periwinkle” [Maternal]

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Attribution – Unlocking the Doors Within

This morning I went to the garden. The daylily appropriately named ‘Attribution’ finally bloomed, bringing with it long anticipated clarity.

My soul is in perpetual training. There are multiple aspects of this way of being. There is the courageous part that seeks newness and takes the road of preparedness for the leap into the unknown. This way I am able to sense those things which would otherwise remain hidden in my so-called safe place.

A part of me chooses to view the world through the eyes of an innocent child, enabling the wonderment of discovery and the awe of life’s small miracles. Often, joy and inspiration are tucked away in these moments; creativity and possibilities are born.

However, the more open I am to what is around me, the more pain and ugliness I must sift through. Awareness. Sometimes this ugliness wraps itself around me like a heavy net, restricting movement, imprisoning me within its scratchy tangles.

Struggling to free myself from the net is exhausting, leaving me without strength to carry on the simplest tasks while greater tasks gather on the edge of the horizon like menacing thunder clouds. Ambition dies.

When I cannot write, when the words chase each other around in mottled chaos inside my head, I am stuck somewhere between black scribbles and vast emptiness. Moving forward is a chore; my feet are heavy with each step. Breathing is no longer automatic. All things are forced.

There is good silence and there is bad silence. The place where I scream and nothing comes out has emerged from my dream state into my consciousness where it does not belong. No one hears, not even me.

The lesson of letting go has been the most significant of late. I have heeded my own advice, which is to be at the helm of that little ship on the rough seas, not tossed about at the mercy of the waves.

Eventually, the helm is impossible to manage. Shift. Change. Trust. Maryjane, just let go.

Okay. It works.

My connection with nature must be maintained. Nature is a major component of the antidote. If I spend too many days locked in the corporate world – this connection is greatly compromised. After a long day at the office, I pull into the driveway and sit in the car mustering the energy to walk into my home. I acknowledge swollen buds about to burst into splendor; I smile weakly as a hummingbird zooms past me to one of the feeders, but the roaring flame usually ignited by these very things is a dim ember. Not ash; there lies hope.

After a day or two of reminding myself to breathe, giving thanks for a multitude of blessings, allowing stillness and being okay with it is; the net begins to dissolve. The damp, clingy mist evaporates and through it I see the magnificence of the simple, deep-green cat-o-nine tails swaying in the pond. The light filtering through the clouds provides a hint of inspiration.

When I finally stop fighting; the net falls away completely. The ember – divine spark – roars within. The torrential rain that woke me in the middle of the night gave way to a perfectly sunny day with a delicate breeze.

Thoughts, words, creativity and possibilities are endless.

When the garden lily brings forth tears, it is a good morning indeed.

From Journal: “Apple Blossoms” [The Writing Life]

Monday, June 27, 2011

Memories of the Trees: Healing

It was about a month ago when the loggers came and cut down each divine tree in the pine grove, leaving behind a wretched heap. Except for an occasional glimpse of sun, it rained for the whole month, so it seemed. When it wasn’t raining; impenetrable gray clouds hovered over the snarled remains – twisted limbs, bleak stumps and clusters of once hopeful, green pine needles. The only sign of life… mosquitoes, black flies and wood ticks…pursued me relentlessly. I had every reason to stay away.

The thick, sweet scent of pine permeated the air – a cruel joke indeed. I attempted to walk up the hill and stand in the middle of where the giant pines once stood, but I succumbed to a certain weakness, which I have never experienced before.

No matter how hard I tried, I could not accept the loss of what felt like a part of me. I could not tolerate the void, the hole, the place where new light emphasized the truth of intent.

I walked amongst the daisies and lupine in hopes of finding cheer and inspiration as I often do, but I could not fully surrender. No matter where I stood or where I looked, my world was too altered; I was unable to find my center. The abundance of light in that one place caused me to wince; the acoustics of the wood thrush cascaded into the emptiness with an uncommon timbre.

I sentenced myself to the front yard where I would not be reminded, except for the aroma of pine pitch, which adhered to my core. I have woken up several mornings to the sound of gentle rain, enveloped in this blissful evergreen bouquet only to plummet into the reality of their demise.

I knew that I loved the trees and the enchanting pine grove; however I did not comprehend our direct connection, as if it were my lifeblood. I felt so fortunate to dwell in their magnificent presence, especially during a time in human history when Our Mother is suffering and in so much pain. Any day, night and season, I was able to retreat into the woods and listen to the quiet hush in the highest parts of the giant pines. To witness this sacred beauty in the woods was to witness hope and reconnect with my original purpose.

I finally made my way to the center of the pine grove ruins. I stood in its vast emptiness while the bugs viciously attacked me and the rain fell hard. I shed an abundance of tears and allowed the pain to surface in all of its ugliness and rage. Release was the only way for me to move on so that I could embrace the thought of  the new growth of hardwood trees, a barn and field.

The approaching rumble of thunder nudged me down the hill towards the house. My breathing was shallow as the heavy hand of Sophia pressed against my chest; I could not utter a sound. I peeled away my wet clothes and soaked in a hot lavender bath surrounded by the light of a dozen flickering candles.

The following day I awoke with a fever, chills, bad cough and sore throat. My voice was gone and I was weak. It took over two weeks for this illness to pass; my health is just now returning. I was greatly uninspired and in despair after this loss.

Today was the first day that it really felt like summer. I have surrounded myself with hummingbird feeders – about ten or so scattered about strategically in the front yard. I sat in my red chair with my eyes closed listening to the steady beating of hummingbird wings whirring about. In fact, one hovered in front of me and we made eye contact for what seemed like a half a minute. I have chosen these little miracles to aid in my final healing process.

I will confess that I did not expect this event to affect me as it did. However, we are all a part of nature, some more aware and connected than others. I will never forget.

From Journal - Babies Breath (Nature)

Sunday, May 29, 2011

The Death of a Pine Grove


There are field people and there are woods people.  Without question, I am the latter. When I learned that the trees had to be removed to clear a spot for a barn, pasture and cornfield, I closed my eyes and concentrated on breathing. I could see the barn with hay spilling from an open loft and actually hear stomping hooves and clucking hens; however, it was not enough. Of course I love farming and miss the days when I had my own small farm complete with over fifty laying hens, a few randomly magnificent roosters, and a handful of mischievous goats and an unplanned, large population of bunnies straight from an Alfred Hitchcock movie scene.

Other than the bunnies, which were endearing at first, the farming experience was rewarding and incomparable to any other experience thus far. I long to have a farm again, so why can’t I jump up and down with glee at the thought of it?

Before this, I gained much of my insight, inspiration and groundedness from a pond alone. However, I fell in love with the ancient [Eastern White] pine grove the moment we met. The sacred grounds – a world of great magnitude and tranquility – became my private sanctuary. It was situated on a rolling hill carpeted with orange pine needles and huge, rich, moss covered granite rocks with a vast array of mushrooms scattered about on standing deadwood and stumps.

If magic exists, it does so in a pine grove such as this. It is shady and other worldly. The separation between light and shadows was bold and clearly defined. Sometimes when I stood close to a tree and looked up the straight, unending trunk, I sort of got a high. The limbs are out of reach and sway in the wind against the sky. Deep grooves in the gray bark beg for touch. Many of the great giants stand over 100 feet tall and were reserved in colonial times for making masts for the British Royal Navy, hence the local name Kingswood.

I found a place in the center of the grove where inhaling the dense, sweet, cool, air and exhaling to share with the rest of the world, eased my anxiety. I loved the trees so much that one day, for a few moments, I blushed in their presence. I stood in the middle of a wondrous community where I wanted to remain. At first I was a little embarrassed, which instantly reminded me of how much I needed to follow through. I decided to live up to my reputation. Who was judging other than me?

I hesitated, stepped forward and hugged the tree that stood boldly before me. At first it was very strange– so cliché – but it felt really good. It was true. I was an authentic tree hugger. I laughed and hugged tighter.

Every season, day and night, I visited the grove and viewed it through the kitchen window – I spend a great deal of time in my kitchen. One bitter clear night in January, I was awake at 3:00 A.M. staring at the full, bright moon flickering through the waving branches and exploding off of the snow. The peculiar silvery green hue – physics of the January moon illuminating the snowy pine grove – validated life as I knew it.

There was always a certain rush of air, somewhat musical, somewhat intentional. The sweet scent of pine ebbed and flowed. I have celebratory baskets of pine cones displayed here and there.

I knew that the logger would be coming soon. I paced up and down the hill; the usual whispering amongst the trees remained a consistent force.

The logger said, “If a pine grove is cleared, deciduous trees will replace them. It’s a good thing.” I discovered that it was true. But, it didn’t matter.

The clanking chains on the wheels of the skidder rattled within my solar plexus. I broke into a sweat as chain saws cut into the trees and then lopped off the limbs from the tree lying on the ground. Genocide.

Black flies and mosquitoes buzzed around my head, landing on the bare skin of my arms and neck, biting and stinging. I stood motionless watching as many as six trees at a time being hauled down the hill. My mouth was dry and my temples were throbbing when the logger waved at me from atop his skidder. I forced a weak smile. Every creak, groan and cracking of limbs tore at my insides. I gasped when the ground shook as each tree fell. I tried to think about other things.

I woke up with a start when I wondered how long a tree lived after the initial cut. Was death instant? Did the roots live? Did it feel pain?

I took a short video of progress at the end of each day in an effort to accept it. Lone survivors stood haphazardly in the remains of the grove anticipating their turn. The earth shuddered greatly when the grandfather – the grandest tree and one of the last to go – crashed to the ground.

Heaps of pine tree corpses are now strewn about the property awaiting their trip to the morgue. The sun shines brightly through the hole in the sky where the pine grove used to be.

The air is heavy and wet with bleeding pine pitch; nothing escaped a blanket of bright green pollen.

I will be grateful and work hard on the farm. I will avoid looking out the kitchen window for now. I must rely on the seeds of nearby hardwood trees for a promising future. I will not forget the pine grove, for it remains imprinted on my soul.


From the Journal: Babies Breath – Marigold

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Garden Tears - Never Underestimate the Rain


Rain is my constant companion. Although it is mid-May, I continue to carry wood to keep the fire burning in the kitchen stove. I refuse to wear a coat outdoors. The mud sticks to my shoes and I abandoned my garden gloves. However, it’s the best time for planting because the black flies don’t like rain and it is less traumatic for plants to transition from pots to moist earth.

My drenched shirt clings to my skin; I prefer rain to bugs. The water that drips from the end of a long curl and onto my face becomes a syncopated rhythm to the music in my head. I always do that; I have songs for random things like the postage meter and the washing machine.

I keep a close watch on the flowers and herbs. Not just the flowers in the gardens scattered around the house, but the wild flowers and herbs in the woods, by the streams and frog pond. I continue to bond with the gardener who worked the earth before me. She passed the torch, making me the caretaker. I honor the position and must earn the trust necessary to maintain the love born from deep within the womb of Our Mother.

I carry my guide, my camera, journal and pen, and open my heart to Her offerings. I wait patiently for one purple tulip to open. I walk by and peek out of the corner of my eye, pretending to be nonchalant. Hastening nature insults Her and me.

The two pastel pink tulips – with heavy heads and weak stalks – promised so much, yet suffered a cruel fate, breaking and dying just before blossoming. I brought them inside and placed them in a bud vase where they will have a chance to boast their beauty, if only in death. Seems nothing goes as planned.

This morning, the rain came down harder than yesterday. I sipped my coffee and through the kitchen window, watched tree limbs bend and sway in the wind. I went outside without a sweatshirt or coat; the cool, damp air brought me deeper into the moment.

I tried to witness when the newborn leaves came. Again, they appeared when I wasn’t looking.

The up-and-coming dark purple lilacs wait quietly on the edge of everywhere, about to explode. Wilting daffodils retire politely, making room for the irises. Some red and yellow tulips reached too high, too soon, following the path of the pinks as they tumble to the earth in vain, submitting to my bud vases.

I revealed my anticipation as I knelt before the single purple tulip, unable to resist touching the silky unopened bud. Overwhelming splendor invites tears. Never underestimate the rain.

From Journal: Babies Breath


Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The Cardinal’s Lament

When his spirit departed, I dashed outdoors to witness the world. I needed to know how it would or would not be. I stood on the hilltop and looked beyond the lake at the rolling pumpkin clouds. The imprint of the wind on the water rippled and swirled in an instant and then stopped abruptly, dissolving into an ancient memory.

The night – patient and polite – had waited long enough. With tight-fisted buds, the trees waved in the diminishing wind one last time. Velvety shadows wrapped safely around the bluish gray mountain range – a maiden’s silhouette.

It was more than tranquil. Everything sighed except for you. Your song resonated urgently into the dusk. Despair and grief abandoned my heart as I caught sight of your brilliance from within quiet branches.

Your lament was reassurance. I was woken by the purity of your song; it remains. Your boldness captures my eye, leaving mourning to the doves.

Since then I have seen you when it is best to see you, as I did today. There is no need to speak in my dreams. All words were spoken. The birdsong sustains infinite love.

From Journal - Babies Breath


Photo Courtesy of: < http://vintagecatnip.blogspot.com/ >










Monday, May 9, 2011

Foraging – Going Underground: Roasted Dandelion Root Tea


Two years ago I was bit by a brown recluse spider. My treatment consisted of 43,000 mg of antibiotics within ten days. To say that I was wiped out is an understatement. I felt like a shell of myself; I feared that I would never feel normal – whatever that is – again.


In order to restore my immune system and regain my strength, I embarked on a daily regimen of natural herbs and supplements. In addition to the wonder of red clover tea, I began to drink roasted dandelion root tea, which is an effective detoxifier loaded with vitamins and minerals. “Naturopathic practitioners use dandelion root tea to treat skin conditions, liver disease and gastrointestinal upset”i.

Unfortunately, the dandelion has gotten a bad rap. Our society categorizes it as a weed and will stop at nothing to eradicate it from the earth. I cringe whenever I see advertisements where people happily squeeze the trigger on a bright green plastic bottle and fire poison on a dandelion plant, killing it instantly. What a tragic victory, killing a rich source of “vitamins A, B complex, C and D, as well as minerals such as iron, potassium, and zinc"ii.

I have become quite fond of roasted dandelion root tea – the bitter, sweet, almost nutty flavor is soothing in addition to astounding health benefits. Knowing that it is good for cleansing the liver and gall bladder, while offering an abundance of vitamins and nutrients is reassuring.

Some people prefer to blend the roots with chicory and or beet roots to make coffee or spice it up to make Chai; it is a personal preference.

You can purchase packaged roasted dandelion root tea at health food stores, the roots alone, or already blended with other roots for coffee. I prefer to harvest, roast, prepare and enjoy my own favorite tea.

The time for harvesting roots is in the spring before it produces a flower, or in the fall after the flower has passed. When the plant is flowering, the sap which contains the nutrients is invested in the stem and flower and the roots have lost potency and flavor. That is when you use the flower for dandelion beer or wine!

I wish that I didn’t have to mention this, but I do. Please take care to harvest dandelions where you are certain that the area has not been treated with pesticides or herbicides. Remember, it’s all about avoiding and eliminating poisons and toxins.

Depending upon the soil, you can loosen the earth around the plant with your bare hands or you might need a trowel or shovel to dig up the roots.

After I have a heaping basket full of dandelions, to avoid making a mess in the kitchen, I sit on the bottom step of my porch and shake the excess dirt from the roots. I separate the greens from the roots and place them in two piles – the greens are excellent in salads or steamed like spinach. Like the roots, they are best in the spring and fall.

Some people scrub the roots under clear, cool water while others prefer to soak them. I have done both, but think that scrubbing them is better because after that, you roast them and it takes longer if the roots have absorbed a great deal of water.

After the roots are clean, I let them dry on a clean cloth towel before chopping them into small chunks and spreading them on a cookie sheet. I set the oven at 170 degrees F and roast for approximately three hours. Stir them from time to time and check to make sure that they are brittle and dry before removing them from the oven. Moisture causes mold growth.

I keep my roasted dandelion roots in a glass jar with a tight seal. You can use your wildest imagination when making your roasted dandelion root tea. This is one of my favorite recipes:

1 tablespoon roasted dandelion root
1 or 2 whole cloves or a pinch of ground clove
½ cinnamon stick or dash
1/8 tsp of minced whole ginger root or pinch of powdered ginger

Place above in a reusable [hemp, silk or cotton] tea bag or strainer and steep in 8 – 10 ounces of boiling water for about ten minutes, or boil for five minutes in a saucepan and strain into your cup.

Sweeten with a few drops of local maple syrup or blueberry honey.

Nothing compares to going underground for a delicious, earthy cup of tea that has been right there under your nose all along. How sweet it is.

From Journal - Babies Breath
_______________________________________________________

i,ii < http://www.livestrong.com/article/16368-make-dandelion-root-tea/>

Photo Courtesy of:  < http://vintagecatnip.blogspot.com/ >






Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Foraging –A Walk on the Wild Side

 


I am passionate about identifying, finding, preparing and eating edible wild foods and medicinal plants. I have always been interested in natural remedies and enjoy an organic lifestyle; however it is more meaningful to me after researching my Native American ancestry and the character of “Nellie” or Nanatasis in my forthcoming historical novel, Etched in Granite.

Nellie – of Abenaki descent – shares her knowledge of the healing powers of wild plants, nuts, seeds and roots. I broadened my practice of foraging following my research and find it to be especially significant during these uncertain times. To be able to harvest indigenous plants from the early thawing spring, to lush summer, into the abundance of fall and then hibernate in the deep freeze of winter –is a forager’s dream. The offerings of woods, hills, fields, streams and lakes of New Hampshire are plentiful, often missed and ripe for plucking.

A few days ago, I came across Evening Primrose in the early phase. It is never too early for Evening Primrose, even if they are poking out of the snow; they are good.

First of all, they are a biennial; I was seeking the first year’s taproot. The young leaves – long, slender with a trace of red on the ends – are flat on the ground extending outwards from the center. The optimum time to harvest is before the leaves are upright. It is a short season; once the weather gets warm they grow quickly and become bitter to taste.

Most folks are accustomed to acknowledging them later and in their second year when they have tiny yellow blossoms – these are not the roots to look for; the nutrition has gone into flowering.

I freed the roots – creamy white with a dark pink band at the base – with my hand trowel and filled my basket. Sitting comfortably on the porch steps, I shook away the loose dirt and discarded pieces of debris such as pine needles and dead leaves. I went into the kitchen and rinsed them thoroughly under cool water. Next, I cut the greens from the top and set them aside in a colander. I scrubbed the roots with a copper pot scrubber, which I believe is easier than using a knife or peeler since they are generally about three to four inches long, although some can be the size of a medium carrot.

The greens can be added to a salad or boiled for approximately five minutes and then served with butter, salt and pepper.

The taste is unique – sweet and mild, similar to a spicy turnip.

The roots should be boiled for a minimum of ten and not more than fifteen minutes. Keep it simple with butter, salt and pepper or jazz up the roots by adding grated Parmesan cheese, vinegar or anything that inspires you. To tone down their sharp bite without snuffing them out, serve with potatoes and sour cream.

Going for a walk on the wild side is exhilarating. Exploring what each season brings in abundance with joyfulness and delight cannot be rivaled. Fill your basket, fill your plate, fill your belly, and fill your soul.

(Journal - Babies Breath)

Monday, May 2, 2011

Goldilocks Pays a Price - The Bear Encounter

It was over a week ago when a hungry bear ravaged my bird feeding station, waking me up with a start. I was fortunate that it did not destroy the feeders. I decided that I would continue feeding the birds, but I had to take the feeders down at night. I was unable to bring them into the house because of mice, so I opted for the trunk of my car.

The flurry of bird activity did not settle down until well after sunset. I was careful to take down the feeders each night before dark; I awoke early each morning to hang them. My devotion to birds dates back to my childhood when I used to band them as a 4-H project on Sunset Hill in Center Harbor. I have been feeding, watching, counting, reporting, banding and nurturing abandoned babies and injured birds for many years.

I spent the last three winters on the Gulf of Mexico, celebrating the sunny beaches but craving the mountains. This was my first winter back home. In the fall, I hung several feeders filled with black oil sunflower seeds, songbird seeds and both homemade and commercial suet. I was concerned by the lack of attendance at my feeders. I tried to understand this radical change.

I was filled with joy when the bird activity increased, including over a dozen species. Taking down the feeders at dusk and hanging them up at dawn was a small price to pay. Soon I would delight in visits from the migrating indigo buntings, rose-breasted and evening grosbeaks and orioles that would join the already feasting chickadees, nuthatches, variety of finches, sparrow, juncos and woodpeckers. I am also honored to have a pair of mourning doves and blue jays. Even the red squirrels are well mannered and eat the spillage on the ground.

Last night I lost track of time. I gasped when I realized that darkness had fallen and I had not taken down the feeders. I slipped into my bright pink crocs and headed out the door. I stopped abruptly when greeted by a full chorus of peepers and wood frogs. They finally arrived. Their chirping whirled around me from all sides – the woods and two ponds. My original intent vanished quickly as I raced inside to get my recorder.

After making sure that my batteries were charged, I flipped off the porch light, went outdoors and walked towards the pond. I recorded for about 45 seconds and stopped. I inched a little closer to the pond because peepers and friends tend to fall silent when they realize that they have an audience. Without pressing my luck further, I stopped and recorded for another minute. I stood quietly trying to decide if I could get even closer when I heard a snap and some rustling in the woods. This is not uncommon, but I sensed something different.

I stood motionless and waited. I heard nothing. I brought my recorder into the house and remembered that I needed to take down the feeders. Not wanting to interrupt the glorious earthy jam session, I approached the bird feeding station in darkness. I took one feeder off of the hook and then another. Suddenly I heard a very loud, deep huff – almost a snort. It was close enough that if I reached behind me, I could definitely touch it. I knew it was a bear. He blended into the blackness of the night. I darted up the porch stairs into the house with my heart pounding. I grabbed a flashlight and ran onto the porch and shined it on him, a full grown adult black bear. His muscular, sleek, black magnificence overpowered my senses.

We maintained steady eye contact. At first he was on his hind legs and then without moving his head, dropped on all fours and snorted once again before ambling off into the woods.

My breath came in short puffs. I knew that I should have been afraid. However, what I felt was not fear; it was exhilaration. Knowing that the bear watched me record the peepers, return to the house and then walk within a few feet of him is almost too much to comprehend. Although he was in my domain, I was too close and he let me know. He was uncomfortable and could have easily mauled me. First, it was a warning from the bear and then from nature that I needed to experience on many levels. We share this world; I must remember that there are others in the woods and to be cognizant of their presence.

I felt more awake and aware than I had in months, maybe years. The significance of our exchange sharply defined the boundaries between us. I was reminded of opening my eyes to see the larger picture. This was no accident.

Symbolically, the bear awakened my senses and called for me to be more in tune with my natural surroundings. Being Goldilocks has consequences.

It was imperative that I rethink the bird feeding situation which had transformed bird feed to bear bait. If I continued to feed the birds, he would continue to visit the area, which is unfair to him, because he is operating on instinct and hunger. It would be dangerous for us all. I could not imagine him being killed because of this.

The birds are okay now; it is no longer the dead of winter. My interest is based on my own desire to observe them. This is my favorite time of year for birding. However, I live in bear country. It is my responsibility to take the feeders down by April 1st, when hungry bears come out of hibernation. Got it.




Photo Courtesty of: http://vintagecatnip.blogspot.com/

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Silence: From one Pond to Another

It was two nights ago when I first heard that brave lone peeper singing confidently out of tune. His notes echoed sharply through the damp spring air, over my head and off into the woods. It didn’t matter if he made mistakes, only that he sang with passion. I abandoned the urge to applaud, knowing that it would rob me of the joy of his sensual ballad.

I admired him and understand the significance of getting one’s chops up before the others congregate, tune and fill the senses with a cacophony of the wildest, deepest strains possible, drunk with the spirit of lanky Cato’ nine tails.

Today I heard the others. Today you were lost in the swell of spring within not one, but two ponds. I dropped my rake and walked softly to the other pond, knowing full well that it would dry up soon.

I searched each stump until I found the one without a crop of mushrooms or moss. I sat down facing the impermanent body of water. The only sign of music melted into a half dozen rings to resonate and ripple towards the makeshift shore.

We each waited patiently for the other to leave. In my determination, I was certain that I could outlast them. I heard the frogs in the enduring pond in the distance; I wished I had chosen them instead. They too would have ceased in my presence; they always do. I decided to have no regrets as I turned my face upwards to bathe in the sun.

The ripples finally diminished into a glassy surface that reflected the rushy greens and giant pines. I felt something tickling my leg. Expecting a fly, I was pleased to discover a newly hatched Grote’s Sphinx moth. The wings boast fragments similar to the orangey monarch design – enough to uphold in adversity – carefully woven into the corner of each small, fuzzy wing.

I put my finger in front of its head in hopes that it would climb aboard like others in the past, and adorn my ring finger for several enchanting moments. He did not have time for such frivolity; he fluttered to my other leg and continued his jittery walk.

We sat together and waited for the end of the frogs’ intermission. I cringed at the thought of my newest friend becoming a tasty morsel. No one should drive a bargain such as that.

It wasn’t until I decided to leave that the moth perched onto my ring finger – unrivaled by any other jewel – and accompanied me to the other pond where all fell silent upon my approach like they always do.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Bittersweet – Onion Patch

A vast array of emotions washed over me as I raked thick clumps of wet dead leaves, rotted wood stakes from gardens past and tangled roots, to reveal a healthy onion patch. Their pungent odor blended with black, fresh earth and last season’s pig manure from the nearby empty pen.

I was able to work outdoors wearing a tank top and shorts – glorious. I almost broke a sweat. I smiled. Relentless black flies would be swarming in a week or so; I savored buglessness. Remnants of death create fertile soil. To rejoice, I dug my fingers into the still icy dampness and squeeze. A considerable spider with a yellow stripe on its back hesitated on a mud covered rock, anticipating possible death on the heel of my garden shoe. We parted ways.

I followed the offensive reconstituted scent of pigs, recalling uninvited highlights of their short lives, confirming that I could not eat anything with a face. As hard as I tried to avoid eye contact with them, we always managed to catch glimpses of each other. I was their reluctant ally; their ally after the fact. I realized their souls amidst their heaven – filth and stench.

With rake in hand, I returned to the garden of intrigue, where mysterious things that come into flower were planted by the hands and sweat of another, one known to me only through this wondrous patch of earth.

Hundreds of crocuses continue to radiate; snowdrops pass by; daffodils quiver – about to explode, and tulips hold promise.

It began to rain softly. The ochre sky offered no guarantees. I shuffled my feet on the last stubborn snow bank to wash the treads of my sneakers before going inside. I tracked mud into the kitchen and threw one more log on the bed of hot coals in case the sun did not return.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Babies Breath: Wild Sonata



            [It may be necessary to turn up your volume to hear the "Music"]

Last night a thick blanket of clouds covered the sky, eliminating any sign of the waxing moon. I stood still, safe in Her womb. The riotous screeching of a barred owl gathering came from the darkness of thick giant pines and ancient hardwood trees, over the pond, echoing off of massive granite rocks.


I recognized familiar voices. Another deep, distinctive guttural voice – previously unknown –sounded over the others. I imagined them fluttering and flitting from one tree to another in their mating dance. The rising pitch triggered a response in the deepest part of my untamed heart. How I love their wild souls.

Suddenly, they fell silent. My breathing tempo returned to normal; yet I remained motionless.

The swollen brook raced over its rocky bed and gushed eagerly into the waiting pond where a lone peeper practiced chirping tirelessly, skipping every sixth beat taking a well deserved breath. In my head I contemplated moving, but halted when I heard a single cluck from the hill behind me. Again I waited for perhaps an answer or the same cluck. Nothing.

Again, one owl screamed and then the others joined in the rowdy chorus. The wind gusted, drenched with cold moisture from the remaining pockets of crusted, speckled snow. The peeper continued practicing and skipping every sixth beat. Every other measure was punctuated with a single, syncopated cluck.

I walked away in silence, careful not to disturb the wild sonata of the woods, savoring the possibility of memories to come.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Bittersweet: Today I Walked in the Woods


Today I walked in the woods, bathing in the splendor of Our Mother. Being amongst the trees replenishes resources previously lost. I am safe and most at home in the community of trees. The symphony of shivering leaves (determined to remain until new buds explode), wispy wind, bird chorus, and the rushing water in temporary brooks emptying into silent ponds, ease my tension.

Last year’s berries look deceivingly fresh as they retain their redness. I pick one with a complete set of leaves to bring inside to identify for foraging. I have some knowledge, yet much more to learn. I am thinking that they are teaberry or wintergreen – a literal trail mix. If that is the case, then I will harvest the current season crop and make my own wintergreen oil, which sadly has become a commercial chemical product.

I let go of the week’s worries; this is what matters. Our Mother does not ask for anything other than the opportunity to continue to give us what we need – her thriving health. We need Her to thrive in order to thrive. How simple is that? How hard is that? Once we have lost it, we have lost the spirit, our origins, the core of our ancestors and the Creator Herself. She will carry on with or without us. I believe that She wants us to win; but we have to want that as well.

I stood at the edge of the small valley and remembered when it was all green. Last season I collected blackberries and raspberries there. I paused at what was left of the milkweed; soon butterflies will visit, especially the monarchs, which is where they lay their eggs.

The remnants of winter decay carpets the floor of the woods in morbid beauty. Death – orange, brown, gray and pearl white. Branches and twigs snap beneath my feet as I walk. The angelic white mushrooms perched on the log last December remain in place, ready to take flight. I stop and brush away brittle leaves, bark and pine needles to reveal new growth of what I believe to be ferns coiled in perfect circles of hope.

When I come into the house, I relish the scent of fresh air and the peppery woods, which clings to my clothes and hair. I used to like that about my cats. When they came inside, I picked them up and buried my face in their clean fur; it smelled deliciously like the “outdoors.”

It’s still cold outside, in the low forties. But it is not raining or snowing.

After lighting my writing candle and burning sage, I sit and write of all that there is or isn’t, while listening to ambient music that becomes the soundtrack to my inner life until I return to the woods tomorrow and listen to the rain as it washes away the sins of mankind, hoping for redemption.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Mamma Bear - Babies Breath

I tucked my goose down comforter under my chin and closed my eyes. A minute had not passed when I heard and felt the vibration of an urgent crash near the front porch.

I knew immediately that a black bear had gotten to my bird feeding station. In fact, at that instant, I realized that I was unconsciously expecting and secretly hoping that it would happen at some point. I know it seems odd to read such a thing, however in a world that has lost its way – where nature is fighting desperately to find balance – I too desire reassurance that I can count on a hungry bear to sniff out the wondrous scent of black oil sunflower seeds and peanut butter suet.

I know from when I lived on Pocket Mountain, that black bears find thistle distasteful. I awoke one morning to a shattered finch feeder and thistle scattered about the deck, while the black oil sunflower seeds were completely gone.

When I investigated the ‘crime scene’ this morning, I was relieved that she – I decided that it was a mother bear – did not break anything. She bent the red, rubber coated, wire feeder somewhat to get to the suet cake, and popped off the top of the plastic tube feeder to get the sunflower seeds. She must have shaken the seeds out of the holes of the larger cylindrical feeder, as the top was still intact. Surprisingly, she left the “A” Frame platform feeder untouched. Perhaps there were more empty shells than seeds, prompting me to replenish.

I gathered the hooks, wires, hangers and feeder parts from the ground and refilled them. I plan on taking them in at night, quickly dismissing the vision of leaving food out separately for the bears. I know that I could easily attract at least one black bear family. In the name of safety, I must not.

I could not stop feeding the birds at this time; I expect the migrating birds to return at any time. There are so many that will be coming through between now and the end of May – indigo buntings, pine grosbeaks (again, they were here in early winter), rose breasted grosbeaks, Baltimore orioles, brown headed cowbirds, which I like despite their stigma of being nest thieves, and of course the hummingbirds arrive when apple trees and lilacs blossom.

The chickadees (that are of age) are calling for their mates and have been visiting the feeders much more so than during the winter when my feeders hung virtually untouched for months. While I was re-hanging my feeders, I heard but did not see a small flock of Canadian geese overhead.

The past two weeks I have found peace in bird sightings at the wildlife sanctuaries that flank each side of the road by my house. They are swampy areas; a favorite environment for birds, deer, moose, beavers, turtles and many others.

One morning in the midst of the fog rising from the waters into the cold air, a pair of Canadian geese swam together and intertwined in an obvious loving manner. And yesterday on my way home, I passed a Great Blue Heron in flight. It is the second time I have seen him in that area; I will always look for him now.

I know that just beyond the Southwestern side of the pond is where a barred owl frequents. It is common for me to hear him any time of day or night. Sometimes I hear a great horned owl at night, but not as often as the barred owl. The Owl is a messenger, which can bring forth tidings of death and / or wisdom. Death does not always mean in the physical sense; it can also mean the death of old ways or of an era. I choose to believe now that this is a time of change and that the messenger is bringing awareness of change. I honor this messenger and this beloved creature of Our Mother, which I love and cherish.

I was comforted by the many sounds of the woods this morning. The trees and creatures therein are my companions. A variety of woodpeckers were busy pecking for bugs in dead trees, while the nuthatches (upside down birds) make a slight, almost honking noise. Two hawks were flying in the treetops on the edge of the clearing; I looked towards them but they were not in sight.

The innocence of the finches' questioning call surrounded me while I searched for pussy willows near a cluster of poplars. I always smile when I hear their persistent song that ascends into a high note, completely opposite of the descending scale of the wood thrush, which I eagerly await.