Saturday, January 29, 2011

The Horses are Loose

Most of the time my childhood adventures were much like a chapter plucked from Tom Sawyer – whimsical, full of outdoor quests and small town drama in a quaint historic village.

Our neighbor, post master, and patriarch of the town, Mr. Heard, lived in a grand farmhouse estate that abutted our property. I both enjoyed and feared his two horses – Babe and Prince – that spent most of their time in the pasture that was literally in our backyard.

In downtown Sandwich, the pasture was visible from almost all points, so in many ways, the horses were the center of attention. I often gazed upon them from my classroom, admiring them for being able to enjoy the outdoors as I sat confined within cinderblock walls.

Babe was white and Prince was reddish brown with a black mane and tail. Until shortly before his death, Mr. Heard was the Marshall of the very important Sandwich Fair Parade, riding on his beloved Babe.

Every so often the horses escaped; they galloped aimlessly and desperately, and people shrieked, “The horses are loose! The horses are loose!” Most of the kids ran for cover and finally one of the grown ups would capture the horses and return them to the pasture or barn.

One warm spring Sunday morning when the lilacs were in bloom and the black flies were just starting to become a problem – my younger sister Joanie and I were pushing our sister Jan in the baby carriage. We were unprepared for the telltale galloping hooves and people shouting, passing the frantic message that the horses were loose. At that moment, we were on the sidewalk, a slight incline, beside the stop sign in the center of the town (the main intersection). Our house was in view and nearby.

As the horses recklessly approached, it sounded like fifty horses instead of two. Joanie and I abandoned the carriage and ran for our lives. After climbing the rusted fence, grabbing Joanie and tumbling into the yard, I looked back at the carriage where I could hear my baby sister cooing. The horses rounded the corner at the intersection and parted, going on each side of the carriage and then barreled down the road past our house with a bunch of red faced men chasing after them.

My mother – in her pink flowered pajamas with curlers in her hair – burst out of the house and dashed up the sidewalk towards the carriage. Just then the church bells started clanging as the righteous ones emptied out of the church across the street. I crouched behind the wire fence and watched my mother march home, red faced and swearing under her breath with her head held high; we weren’t the churchgoing types.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Bazooka Joe in the Age of Innocence

Like most children fortunate enough to grow up in the charming, storybook village of Sandwich, New Hampshire in the 1960’s, my sisters and I strayed often. It was okay. Back then it was almost unheard of for children to be abducted, raped, mutilated, and if found at all, buried in a shallow grave.

The first time I became aware of the horrific possibility of child homicide, I was about fourteen years old. I saw a photo of a murdered girl on the front page of the newspaper. She was from a town in New Hampshire that I had never heard of; no one talked about it. I read the article and tried to imagine it, which was difficult because things like that just didn’t happen in my world.

We rode our bikes or moseyed on foot to the general store, ball field, fairgrounds, school yard, woods and each other’s homes. Everything was fair game. We could go just about anywhere we wanted to go. The clock on the quintessential New England church steeple was our guide, ringing faithfully on the hour.

My older sister, Susan, was friends with Sally and I was friends with Sally’s younger sister Betsy. Once in a while, our paths crossed and we played together as a foursome. One particularly frigid afternoon, one of the older girls thought that it might be interesting to seek out a new place to go skating. For some reason and still to this day, many homes in Sandwich have their own private ponds. (Possibly fire ponds). Susan remembered a place across the road from a kind, plump, old woman named Edrie Burrows. With our skates in tow, we headed there to see what kind of skating situation her pond offered.

In addition to the thrill of skating at a new site, we found an old pot bellied stove in the woods surrounded by broken cattails and birch saplings. It must have been excitement that created super human strength for two ten-year-old and two seven-year-old girls to drag a woodstove out onto the middle of a frozen pond.

Being Sandwich girls, we had the know how to build a respectable fire. Sally ran home and got a package of hotdogs and a pan from her house and we cooked them on the stove. I don’t recall anyone asking any questions or why one of us had matches. What a peculiar sight – four young girls stoking a fire in an old rusty woodstove set in the middle of a frozen pond cooking hot dogs.

I beamed with pride and a strong sense of independence when Susan made the meal complete by distributing a piece of Bazooka Bubblegum for dessert. I always enjoyed reading the miniature comic [Bazooka Joe] that was carefully folded and wrapped around the soft, pink, confection. Sometimes I tore the gum in half and saved the rest for later, but not very often.

After skating around in rather small circles – the pond was the size of a Volkswagen Beetle – the church clock rang five times and it was getting dark. Reluctantly we parted ways and headed home.

I have no memory of my mother’s response to us cooking our supper on a small frozen pond or how Sally’s mother reacted to the fact that Sally helped herself to a package of hotdogs. I don’t know if they were ever aware of our adventure.

For the remaining days of that indefinable winter, I watched the woodstove slowly sink into the slushy pond until one warm, buggy day it was no longer visible. I never stepped beyond the safety of the trees to visit that pond again. If Edrie even knew that we had a stove on her pond that day, she did not say; my mother never spoke of it and my sister and I only mention it from time to time as a reminder of how much the world has changed; we couldn’t imagine our children being off at some random frozen pond skating, playing with fire, eating hotdogs and bubblegum without our knowledge. It isn’t a criticism of our parents; it is a sign of the times. Back then, no one seemed to care or even know.

Now that I’m back in town, I have entertained the thought of returning to see if the woodstove lies in a heap of corroded metal on the bottom of the pond, or if there is even a pond there at all. My memory conjures a very small area; it may have been nothing more than a swamp that has disappeared in time.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Tea, Toast, Peanut Butter and Cheese

My Dad was a salesman. He could sell anything to anyone and he did. He wasn’t shady; he was genuine, friendly and talked so fast that it didn’t matter whether you heard him or not because he held you in the twinkle of his eye.

He sold Electrolux, Cushman Bakery products and cars in the early days of his ever growing family. I liked it when he sold cars, because he brought home various models from the dealership and we got to ride around in something new and different. I was about five years old and happened to know enough to appreciate cars.

As I have mentioned before, we literally went over the river and through the woods to both of my grandmothers’ houses and sang the song faithfully en route. Most of the time, they [the grandmothers] lived in the woods of New Hampshire, but off and on, my father’s mother, Sarah, stayed in Acton Massachusetts with her spinster sisters, Helen and Rotha.

Aunt Helen – a robust woman with a deep voice and white hair twisted into a bun – always wore a faded apron and chunky black heeled shoes that tied. Her gold wire rimmed glasses rested on her round, red cheeks like a feminine version of Santa Claus. If anyone ever chuckled, it was her.

Aunt Rotha looked a bit like a frightened mouse about to dash off to safety, yet determined to wait it out. She stared with her wide eyes close together, her small frame always about to vanish into the shadows of Aunt Helen. She wore the same kind of apron and black shoes and she was extremely bow legged. Her expression never changed. Optimistically, I detected something stirring when I looked deep into her eyes but I was unable pin point what it was. Without being obvious, I think that I secretly tried to get her to blink or react; I did not succeed. I don’t recall ever hearing a word escape from her thin lips; her sister Helen spoke loud and often enough for the two of them. No one mentioned if she had a disability. She was just Aunt Rotha. She could have been a piece of artwork on the book shelf or hanging on the wall. We knew her as she was and that was it.

So when Grammy was living in Acton, we used to go visit. The drive seemed to be much longer than two hours. Back in the 1960’s, we didn’t drive around mindlessly as we tend to do now. The world was bigger and our trips were essential.

One of our expeditions to Acton stands over and above the rest. My father brought home the grandest car I had ever seen. It was a golden Buick Sportwagon with a tinted split sky roof window in the middle and the sides. I had never seen anything like it; it was swank and cutting edge for the sixties. On the drive down, I sat in the backseat with my eyes fixed on the trees screaming by, to the point of teetering on the edge of car sickness. I just could not get over it.

Relieved to step out of the car when we reached Acton, I darted up the stairs into the grand house. The vision of the house in my mind’s eye is through an amber tinted lens which is likely influenced by the abundance of rich dark woods such as mahogany and oak. Everything and everyone – except for my sisters and me – was old.

I sat at the huge dining room table with a white table cloth admiring the bone china tea cups, now in my hutch with a small tin type of a chuckling Aunt Helen and other family treasures. The pink and yellow painted flowers look as striking now as they did in my childhood. The teapot in the middle of the table was the center of the universe. Everything was about tea. I always put too much sugar in my tea when no one was looking. It didn’t even taste good, but I suppose it was an early form of rebellion. We had a tradition that seemed to originate there and then in my parent’s home and into my own home when I became a mother.

This tradition is expressed in our family in four simple words: “Tea, toast, peanut butter and cheese.” That’s all you have to say; anyone in my family knows exactly what it means. It usually happens on a Sunday evening, but it’s okay if you do it another time. It’s a comfort thing, or maybe it’s a lazy thing when the woman of the house doesn’t want to cook, or maybe it’s a needy thing when there was nothing more in the cupboard than bread, peanut butter and cheese. I don’t know. It is sacred. Once my son spread peanut butter all over the cheese; now I am hooked.

It doesn’t have to be basic black or green tea; you can serve up whatever pleases you. When this originated in my family as a child, I believe it was Lipton or Salada tea – something that you bought in bulk at the supermarket. The cheese is always sharp, the sharper the better. My father used to sit at the end of the table with a loaf of bread and the toaster cranking, piling it on a plate for us to smother in peanut butter.

Grammy and the others were game players. They used to play such things as Rummy, Chinese checkers and Parcheesi. Everyone was fiercely competitive. I mistakenly reached across a game of Chinese checkers in progress. Grammy started slapping my hand in unison with her clucking, “No, no no! Don’t touch! Bad Girl!” After her tantrum I retreated and joined Aunt Rotha, quivering in the safety of the shadows.

At the end of the day we bid our farewells and embarked on a new and exciting leg of the journey – riding home at night nestled in the far back of the lavish station wagon with my sisters.

I watched the stars in utter amazement. It was miraculous that a car had been invented featuring windows in the roof; we were privileged to ride in such luxury. The stars were vivid and twinkling in the night sky; slowly disappearing as we got closer to home where the tree tops loomed over the sides of the narrowing road that wound through the mountains in the thick woods. I fought to stay awake, unwilling to miss even a moment of viewing the night sky in this manner, not knowing if or when Dad would bring this car home again or for how long we would have it. Despite this determination, the gentle swaying of the bumpy road lulled me to sleep.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Abigial and the Uncertain World of Native America Healing

Abigail’s decision to assist Nellie and step into the uncertain world of the Native American healing traditions is heroic. New Hampshire’s diverse geography is abundant with edible and medicinal plants. Throughout all four seasons, there is a literal paradise of harvestable resources, which the majority of the population is completely unaware of, treat as invasive weeds or ignores completely because of the allure of modern medicine.

Finding, identifying, preparing and administering local medicinal plants has become a lost art, which is slowly regaining awareness because of a shift in our economy, rapidly changing pharmaceutical markets, spirituality, and the fact that the earth is forcing us to change our destructive and wasteful ways of life in order to survive.

At this very moment, we are living amidst the consequences of the various choices that we have made in the past. We are the sum of our actions. We continue to make choices as we move forward.

Abigail is no different. She views her life through the lens of a devout Christian, with a certain amount of expected pain and suffering that happens to go with the territory.

I gave up thinkin’ about that which was easy and pleasant, only to be discontented because I couldn't have my own will. I gave up all wishin’ and longin’ and only thought of bearing what lay upon me, and acceptin’ God’s will.

Bein’ crowded into that miserable house – confined for room, neither wind nor watertight – became my own hell. Gone were the days when we relished the January thaw, the short-lived warmth in the midst of winter.

When the cryin’ and moanin’ ceased, the snow melted in thunderous drips on the roof, on the sill and in the pot in the middle of the room. I pulled my blanket over my ears, but the relentless cryin’ continued, keepin’ me awake through the night. Nellie scuffed up and down the stairs to fill her cup with hot water for medicine tea.

Old Mrs. Kennison coughed and gagged and sobbed from across the hall. “I need water. Somebody get me water.”

“Jest quiet down and go to sleep.” That new lady Martha Libby snarled. “Ain’t nobody gonna fetch you water at this time of night.”

At this pivotal point, Abigail is faced with many possibilities. In addition to accepting her fate as appropriate punishment for her sins, she can pull the covers over her head and tremble, feel sorry for herself and bathe in her misery. She can choose a path of anger and resentment, or she can step into the unknown and take authentic action and participate.

I sat up and whipped the blanket off me when Mrs. Kennison started gaspin’ for air. I listened for Nellie’s footsteps.

“You ain’t goin’ in there are ya?” Patience’s voice came from the dark corner.

“Nellie can’t do it alone. And I can’t sleep with all this commotion.” I wrapped my shawl around my shoulders and headed for the dimly lit hallway.

“You’re gonna catch the fever.” Patience called after me.

I met Nellie on the top step. She held a cup of steamin’ water in each hand. She stopped and looked at me with surprise.

“Is one of these for Mrs. Kennison?” I reached for a cup.

She handed one to me. Both of them had what looked like brown and green dirt floatin’ on the top of the water.

The hot liquid came close to scaldin’ my hand but I kept it steady. “I’ll bring this to Mrs. Kennison.”

Nellie smiled and followed me into the room. She reached into her pocket and pulled out a notched stick, perhaps from a pine tree, and stirred slowly as I held the hot cup wrapped in my hands. She concentrated hard and closed her eyes every so often. Mrs. Kennison started coughin’ again. Nellie took the stick out of the brew and nodded towards the old woman.

I took tiny steps over to the side of the bed sack and got down on my knees. Nellie watched from a distance. “Here Mrs. Kennison. Drink this and you will feel better. The coughin’ will subside.” My hands shook a bit.

She sat up – her silver hair flattened in the back and her eyes blood red – and reached for the cup. “It hurts to cough; I can’t stop.” She wheezed.

“Hold your head up and sip this.” I held the cup close to her lips. My thoughts turned to Mother. She came to Sarah and me in the night with honey, whiskey and a drop of lemon when we had fits of coughin’.

She gripped my arm and drank with eyes opened wide. I placed my cool hand on her burnin’ forehead. “Lie down and get some sleep.”

She whimpered and spoke in a childish voice. “I can’t.” She rubbed her eyes.

“Stop carryin on for Chrissakes.” Martha Libby huffed and flipped on her side.

“You mind your P’s and Q’s, Mrs. Libby. She’s ill.” I snapped.

“That’s what they all say at this damn place.” She mumbled into her bed sack.

“Do not listen to her or anyone else who doesn’t have a good word, Mrs. Kennison. Have bright thoughts; you’ll feel better if you rest and take Nellie’s medicine.”

“I soiled my bed.” She sniffed. “I’m wet and cold.” She let out a long pitiful cry.

I spun around; Nellie was no longer in the room. Mrs. Kennison curled up in a ball on her bed sack. I ran my fingers through my snarly curls and stared helplessly at the old woman whose trials and afflictions seem to bind us closely together. What do I do?

I paced around the room once and stopped. “I will be back with dry clothes and bedding. You’ll be fine.” I wrapped my shawl over her bony shoulders. Dear God, let her be fine.
Abigail Hodgdon, January 25, 1873

Monday, January 17, 2011

When the Moon Stares Back

The air is thin. The early morning aches with clarity. The almost full moon illuminates the dream-white, snow covered world. I stare, unblinking out the kitchen window. The tracks that I made earlier vanish into the hilly woods that lead to the valley where real Christmas trees will never see an axe.

Green is black. Gray is lavender. Black is blacker. White is sharp, harsh and unforgiving.

Why does the world sleep at such times? I witness and celebrate the emergence of elusive secrets that hide beneath the cloak of obscurity, now revealing and validating that the dark threats were always my own. I hold the innocent, bare facts up to the glaring light of the moon and bathe in the realness of this new found dream. The shadows stretch across a perfect, clean, white blanket. Stark reality does not hide and has no knowledge of shame. Fear cannot hide and has no reason to do so, yet it waits in case I forget.

I travel back into the womb, to the warmth that seemed to be out of reach, but never was. It is up to me to understand understand. To be in this undisguised light affords rightness and the ability to accept groundlessness, emanating from a pinpoint. This is affirming and opens the pathway to possibility. Knowing is what I knew, what I know and what will sustain. Nourishment.

I stare at the moon; the moon stares back. It will not lie; the earth does not deceive and the heavens wait patiently.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Seed for Thought: The Blissful Return

Imagine my joy when I stood at the kitchen window sipping my morning coffee and found it almost impossible to count the flock of Evening Grosbeaks that were partying at my bird feeding station. They were literally spinning around on the seed-filled cream cheese container like a schoolyard merry-go-round. I think that there were probably twenty or more on the feeders, clothesline and ground. Their contrasting yellow, black, grey and white markings are inspiring.

Along with the Evening Grosbeaks were the Goldfinches. They too were in a flock, which is typical. As if that wasn’t glorious enough, the Black Crested Titmice, Purple Finches, Chickadees, Hairy Woodpecker, Blue Jays and Nuthatches joined in and the Red Squirrel dashed back and forth beneath the clothesline causing a bit of a stir, but not enough to clear the place.

I am grateful for their presence and reassurance that all is well with my feathered friends, and that they know that the doors are always open at my bird bistro.

Photo Courtesy of:

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Where are the Birds? Beyond Nuts and Seeds.

Feeding my beloved friend, Yeshua Chippie, on Pick Pocket Mountain in Granite.

The snow fell lightly; random flakes suddenly change direction as if possibly returning to the clouds. I thought if I stepped outside, I would be weightless – inside of a life sized snow globe.

With my eyes fixed on my ever growing bird feeding station, I fetched a piece of scrap paper so that I could keep track of the activity (or non-activity in this instance). In late October, I established a winter feeding grounds for the local birds. I hung a small cylindrical feeder for perching birds, a cup hanger made out of a cream cheese container – which is popular with the Gray Tufted Titmice and Chickadees – and a wire suet holder for all, including a spectacular male Hairy Woodpecker. This is happening on my clothesline outside of the kitchen window – a victory for them and for me. The past three years I was traveling and although I did try to maintain my connection with the birds, circumstances dictated change.

The first day I hung the feeders, the birds wiped out the black oil sunflower seeds in less than half a day. In all of my years as a birder, this was without question the fastest consumption of seed I had witnessed. I was worried, just thinking about the cost and my commitment to offering a reliable source of food throughout the long, bitterly cold, New Hampshire winter.

I went out to the clothesline and examined the cylindrical feeder to insure that there were no holes or malfunctions causing the seed to spill. It seemed intact. I returned to the cellar where I store the seed in a closed metal garbage can (to keep out the mice), dug in the scoop, returned to the feeder and filled it. I realized that this feeder was not as big as my usual perching feeders in the past. I’ll admit that I was trying to be economical; the larger feeders with the green wire outer cage that claim to be ‘squirrel proof’ were over twenty dollars. I was cheap and feeling lousy about it; the woodpeckers and other large birds need to eat too.

I am of the belief that squirrels and chipmunks need to eat too. Don't we all? I was raised to think that squirrels, chipmunks, raccoons and skunks were the enemy.  If they crossed the line into the yard my mother sent my father out with traps or pellet guns to get rid of them. Comically, the chipmunks beat him back to the house after he released them down by the lake. My parents invested loads of time and money on gadgets to keep the squirrels away or off of the feeders. The extremely agile and skillful creatures usually triumphed; after all, they have to eat. I decided that I would take another approach; my devotion to them was equal to the birds; I have befriended many over the years. I make sure that there is a good amount of food on the ground for the squirrels, chipmunks, Blue Jays and other ground feeders. I cannot comprehend why people “hate” Blue Jays. They are magnificently colored and have a beautiful crest. They are blamed for being aggressive. They are what they are. They’re quite mild compared to the Mockingbirds in the Southern Gulf of Mexico. I throw bread crumbs and seed under the feeders for them as well. The world is to share; it is not ours exclusively. How would you like to get shot at if you went to grab a bite to eat? Really.

A few weeks later I saw the same large feeders that were over twenty dollars at the hardware store for ten bucks. That was it. Of course I bought it and loaded it up with seed and hung in on the clothesline with the other assorted feeders, suet and homemade suet cakes that my mother gave me.

Just before Christmas, I noticed a sharp decline in the number of birds that came to my feeders. With the exception of one stellar day following a snow storm when a flock of Redpolls and American Tree Sparrows showed up, the feeders are rarely visited. I have attributed this to numerous possibilities including owls that I have spotted or heard in the area within the past year consisting of Great Horned, Barred and recently a Snowy Owl. I am aware of the fact that hawks inhabit the vast surrounding region. In addition to the ever present predator situation, there is the dramatic alteration of weather patterns, the jet stream and the mystery surrounding the obvious fallout of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and how it has affected the already fragile eco-system and the Gulf Stream. I will not address my other concerns that deal with the obvious chem trails which are laced over our heads in the sky; all it takes is to tip your head upwards and look on any given, clear day (and often moonlit night) to see.

When I heard about the thousands of dead birds falling from the skies in a variety of locations around the globe, the dead fish that washed up on the shores in Arkansas and then two million spot fish in Chesapeake Bay, I had to consciously work on not careening into some sort of newly woven depression born out of deep concern and fear. I am not a scientist and I am not thumbing frantically through Revelations. There is no point in me trying to solve the riddle. My greatest hope is that the unusual frigid temperatures, higher incidences of earthquakes which might cause the escaping of methane, lightening or whatever else could be plausible is what we are dealing with. The fireworks explanation does not work. I am at a place with officials and the media, where I take what they say with a grain of salt. There is no accountability; they can tell us anything that is convenient for them or their agenda, or they can withhold the truth completely. I can either shrivel up and tremble in a paranoid ball and let global atrocities and propaganda whip me into submission, or I can continue to maintain my place in nature and the world around me with integrity.

After processing the news of the unusual deaths / mass suicides in nature, I found myself craving a more deep and meaningful connection with Gaia. I am pretty sure that my life has always been mostly earth based, but now more than ever, there is a calling. I feel it. There is a longing in my chest that is not heavy or painful; it is urgent and energizing.

Day after day I look out at my feeders, dismissing negative thoughts concerning the fact that it is the dead of winter and I have not had to fill them at all. I understand that weather and migration patterns change and there are possibly many reasonable explanations for this, even though I have been a birder all of my life and this is an exceptionally weird year, I think I can handle it. What choice do I have?

Chickadees – III
Red Breasted Nuthatches – II
(Male) Hairy Woodpecker – I
Red Squirrel – II

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Exhaling and Meaning It - Hope for the New Year

I wanted to exhale and be done with 2010. There isn’t a particular event or singular reason for this. I am simply ready for a fresh, new, year. Like all of the other years that have come and gone, 2010 – a year that sped by – was laced with accomplishments and disappointments, discoveries and more loss of innocence. I know that time is constant, but as it passes, it seems to be accelerating.

I was so busy running away from the discomfort of the empty nest, that I actually scored a few points in succeeding. Like everything that you run away from, ‘it’ eventually catches up to you and makes up for lost time.

I don’t lack for having my own high level of creative and academic interests. In addition to my work, I am involved with nature almost to a fault, meaning that when dead birds fall from the sky, turtles burn in the Gulf and oil covered pelicans die before our eyes, I get deeply depressed. I have always relied on my connection with Gaia as a companion to my own support system. Since childhood, I have maintained my balance with her.

Our natural environment was a vital part of and incorporated into our home school curriculum. We lived near the Squam Lakes Natural Science Center, where my oldest son worked for some time, meaning that we went to and from the center daily. Our activities involved bird banding, hiking on and around the center and a variety of self designed programs. We conducted aqua labs on the pontoon boat on Squam Lake and participated in workshops about habitats, solved environmental mysteries and were dialed into the vast, active wildlife center.

On our farm, we had laying hens, goats and cute but useless bunnies. I have written about the significance of our farm in several previous blogs. We lived outdoors; we lived hard. From collecting, splitting and stacking firewood and cooking on a kitchen wood cookstove to heating our water and using a clothesline and every possible method to conserve, we enjoyed and carried a sense of pride in our respect for nature.

When life took a dramatic turn, and we found ourselves on a different mountain with a different set of challenges, all of our previous voluntary sacrifices became a necessity. My own life came into sharp focus.

My awareness of the importance of nature always heightens during difficult times. Recently, I actually lived on a pristine lake – a wildlife reserve – for three months completely in the elements. My nature journal, “The Summer on Duncan Lake” will come of it.

When I face uncertainty or hardship, it is always my instinct to go to nature in some manner. I have spent most of my life in or around the woods, on mountain tops for the most part, although now I am deep in the woods surrounded by rivers, lakes and mountains. I’m in a valley this time.

I feel lost when I am not in the woods or at least near the wild. If I am separated from nature too long, I have severe anxiety attacks. One time I had been very ill for a few months. Although I was living on a mountain top at the time - during the phase leading up to our swift and dramatic departure - my mysterious illness had taken a great deal of strength. I went to the ocean. It had been a good year since I had visited my old childhood spot in Maine. When I got out of the car I ran to the beach and dropped down on the sand. I could not move. The sand was cold on my face, because it was May. I could feel and hear the pulse of the waves. I fell asleep and did not wake up for two hours. When I awoke, I felt dazed but renewed. It was as if I had slept for the first time in months.

I spent my summers on the ocean in Maine. I am a Cancer; the moon and ocean is a life force for me, even though I have chosen the woods. I am still always near a body of water; there is a pond, brooks, lakes and rivers all around me.

I had a rule for many years, and that was that we (my children and I) could never wear shoes when we went for a walk, unless it was cold or in a place where the ground was unforgiving. Wet, damp or dry grass, warm smooth rock, sand…they all serve as a healing balm on bare feet.

When life is overwhelming, I immerse myself in nature. I go for a walk, swim in the lake, ocean or river. I sit in the middle of the woods and listen to birds, a trickling brook, wind in the trees and various creatures, or I listen to enchanting nothingness – stillness.

Even when life is great, I need my fix. I don’t use nature to cure all of my ills. I celebrate and honor her as well. I think that is why the four seasons are so appealing to me. By the time I start to tire of one season, the next is born. My biorhythms are in sync with New England changes.

When my daughter decided to be a traveling kid, a certain part of me became helpless and fearful. I wasn’t sure how to process her choice of lifestyle. It was foreign to me. I have been learning to take in the information that I have about her and release it. This has probably been the most difficult aspect of parenting thus far. Raising my young primarily on my own was demanding but not impossible. Having your beautiful and talented young daughter hitchhike and hop on box cars and travel the country seems impossible. Avoiding eye contact with harm’s way seems unattainable.

I have tried giving up the news, even though I usually only watch Link TV’s Democracy Now, Thom Hartman and Grit TV and Free Speech TV, other news trickles in. I hear of death and destruction from fires, tornadoes all in the places where my daughter is traveling on foot. I have reached a point where it would be best for me to wear blinders and earplugs.

That won’t work. Worrying about things that you cannot change is fruitless. I have been working on letting go. Like the waxing and waning moon, I succeed or fail miserably. It is because I am still transitioning from active mother to crone. In our society, that is not as honored as in other, ancient cultures, however, I am committed to accepting and celebrating this phase.

Thanks to Our Mother, I am able to turn to her when I need time to regain my strength and composure; when I need to connect to my realness.

I had no desire to celebrate New Years Eve. I felt that familiar clenched fist inside of my chest; the misery of fear of the unknown. I betrayed myself and secretly watched the weather channel and tried to figure out if the tornadoes were still a threat. I bit my fingernails. I refused to watch the ball at Times Square. I didn’t want to drink champagne. I was clearly bitched up. I wanted assurance that everyone I loved was safe. I wanted to exhale and mean get rid of the remnants of uncertainty that crowded my head like sticky cobwebs that I could not reach with the vacuum.

After making sure it was just another night, I went to sleep. 2011 was going to arrive no matter what. Confetti, horns, drinks and hangovers weren’t going to change anything. I refused to make resolutions. They are like those rote prayers that hit the ceiling and fall on the floor. Like rules, they are made to be broken. We need to be in a constant state of evolving. January 1st should be no different than any other day. Got problems? What’s the date? Are you going to wait until January 1st? No.

I woke up on New Years Day exhausted and with an attitude. I knew that change was imminent, and it just happened to be January 1st. I knew that I would drink a cup of coffee and think about breakfast even though I wasn’t really hungry, at least not for food.

The snow on the ground stuck for the first time this winter. It was warm. The Redpolls descended on the ground under the feeders in a flock of about twenty bringing about the first smile of the year. I was relieved because the birds had been oddly scarce. I walked around to the different windows in the house and tried to assess the snowshoeing situation. There wasn’t enough snow and it was getting soft and mushy. I would just have to walk in my gray and lilac colored boots, which I like because they are warm, fat and kid-like.

I pulled on my green fleece jacket and blue checked scarf and headed out into the woods. Within moments, my head cleared. My breathing was deep and cleansing; the cold sliced through my unwelcomed invisible shield and sharpened my view. My pace picked up as I followed turkey and coyote tracks into the woods and around the pond. I stopped and examined other tracks – wildcat, raccoon and red squirrel. The landscape provided much needed relief as I practically broke into a run from one set of miracles to the next. I took over 30 photographs, careful not to take too many of the same thing, which I tend to do in my excitement.

The language of nature spoke. I was wrapped in an unhealthy cocoon of fear, dread and worry of the unknown. I was deep within the confines of this trap, and my attempt to run and seek comfort had caused me to tumble even deeper into the abyss.

Walking in the woods, again, is like bathing. Last night the fist started clenching in my chest as I read more and more about the dead birds falling from the sky and the dead fish on the riverbanks in Arkansas.

My breathing became shallow as I read the list of the top twenty declining birds; some of my favorites were on there, like the Eastern Meadow Lark, Common Tern and Little Blue Heron. Even though I was slightly afraid, which is what happens when I spiral downward with my thoughts; I made myself stand on the porch in the stillness of the cold, dark, night. The icy wind stung my cheeks and I fought the urge to grab the door handle when I heard a rustle in the trees. Within a few moments, my breathing returned to normal. I could see a few bright stars in between clouds.

I cannot save all of the birds or creatures or even my own flesh and blood. But I can reject owning that which is not mine to own. It serves no purpose. Instead, I have decided that I will continue to maintain my wisdom and offerings to all of those creatures who decide to land on my doorstep. I will sustain and nurture, but will not wilt and die from fear or lack of understanding all that there is.