Nature

When Times Get Tough, Pull a Thoreau

“An early morning walk is a blessing for the whole day.” ~Henry David Thoreau

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The seasons have changed again without my expressed consent. Fall, with its kaleidoscope of colors and blazer temperatures and soup recipes, does have its allure. But it’s not summer anymore, dammit, and fall is the harbinger of the upcoming cold, grey suck of winter. It has been dark and rainy here for the better part of a week and a half, and my dog and I are tired of dampness and soaked feet. In Denver, fall traditionally arrives with blue skies punctuated by rippled cirrocumulus clouds, a landscape bathed in yellow rabbitbrush, and ideal hiking weather. Pumpkins come out, indian corn goes up, hay bales and scarecrows adorn yards swathed in fallen leaves. I often slip into fall with only a twinge of sadness at the loss of summer. This year with the rain landing me unexpectedly in the middle of seasonal affective disorder months earlier than usual, however, it’s felt like a 55-mile-per-hour rollercoaster descent into disappointment. Combined with relentless barrage of heartbreaking news over the past five weeks, from Harvey to Irma to Maria to Las Vegas, I have been living in a why-even-get-out-of-bed state in my head.

This morning the sun reappeared, not in a cloudless sky but more obviously than she has shown her face recently. I jumped at the opportunity to walk the dog in dry conditions before delivering our sons to school. As Ruby and I padded along, scores of butterflies scattered before us. Hundreds of them, migrating through on their way to the warmer climes of New Mexico and Arizona, flitted across our path making it impossible not to stop and stare. For the first time in weeks, the clouds in my head lifted, borne upwards on the wings of painted ladies.

When I need it the most, this planet slaps me with its marvels. The intricacies of our connections to the earth and its flora and fauna are miracles too immeasurable to overlook. It’s common to check out of the moment and to check into problems that are either too big for adequate and timely solutions or too meager to stress and belabor. In times like these, I always benefit by pulling a Henry David Thoreau and taking a walk to remember what beauty is and where peace lies. Turn off the television when the news is too much. Go find yourself again where you didn’t know you lived. The only certainty we have is this moment. Don’t waste it.

“There are moments when all anxiety and stated toil are becalmed in the infinite leisure and repose of nature.” ~Henry David Thoreau

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Painted lady pause

We Are All Wobble Bunny

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“The wise bunny knows to live in the world that is rather than the world that should be.” ~Bunny Buddhism

Wobble Bunny lives in our yard. I first discovered him a couple weeks ago. I glanced out the bedroom window and there he was, resting close to the fence near a hole I hadn’t previously noticed. I know that bunnies are bad for our lawn and our garden, but that has never stopped me from appreciating them. Not sure if it’s their skyscraper ears or their soulful round eyes or their puffy white tails that tug at my heart, but the bunnies speak to me, and so I have decided to let them do what they must to our yard in the name of survival.

Wobble Bunny is not like other bunnies we’ve shared our yard with before. As he munches in the grass, he often rolls over. It starts with a wobble and then he lists and rolls onto his side or back. At first I thought perhaps he has neurological issues or had gotten into something he shouldn’t have. Upon closer observation, however, I discovered he has an issue with his back left leg. It is weaker than it should be and this causes Wobble Bunny to lose his balance and topple over while sitting or lapse into a barrel roll as he hastily hops toward his hole to avoid danger. It’s simultaneously comical and heartbreaking. It’s an outward display of his vulnerability, and it just makes me adore him more.

I’ve lost hours observing Wobble Bunny. I never let the dog out until I am sure he is safely hiding under the neighbor’s shed or ours. When Ruby perches herself over his hole, her legs mindlessly dancing the doggy Charleston in excitement over a furry prey, I scold her and rein her in. I’m vigilant about protecting this wild bunny, not because I can save him or tame him, but because Wobble Bunny’s shaky existence is a metaphor for all humanity. We are all Wobble Bunny.

The First Noble Truth of Buddhism explains that life is suffering. This does not mean that life is a continual sufferfest. It isn’t. There are rises and falls, but we are constantly exposed to suffering. It begins at birth and continues as we get sick, age, lose loved ones, and don’t get what we hope for or want. It is an inescapable condition of life on this planet. We all suffer. Learning to acknowledge, accept, endure, and alleviate our own suffering (and the suffering of others) is the way to a peaceful heart. It’s a bitch of an obstacle course to run.

Wobble Bunny is my daily Buddhist meditation. There he is. Hopping through his life the only way he knows how, with wobbles and tumbles and missteps. He goes on falling and getting up over and over again because he must. He knows no other way. I wish I could take away his suffering and his weakness. I can’t. But in watching out for him, in doing what I can to make his life less stressful and insecure, I make my own life better.

“My responsibility it not only to other bunnies. It is to all creatures everywhere.” ~Bunny Buddhism

Wobble Bunny reminds me daily to let go of negative thoughts, to be compassionate to other creatures, and to face suffering for what it is…a given. I can’t eliminate all the undesirable conditions, but I can learn to negotiate the minefield with greater skill.

We are all wobbly bunnies. Practicing acceptance and patience around that knowledge is the greatest gift we can give the world.

 

 

Call Me Stretch

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My tallest self

This year, as part of my never-ending quest to grow, I decided to take a photo a day. The way I have it figured, it should help me accomplish two goals: 1) capture the year in photos and 2) find my photographer’s eye and improve my artistic skills. So today, as I was driving home after depositing my sons at school, I noticed that the morning light was damn near inspirational. God bless Colorado and its bluebird days after storms.

Knowing I had a photo to take and about five loads of laundry at home that would convince me not to venture out again, I stopped at the large park across from our ‘hood and trudged out into the 4-degree temps in my not-quite-pajamas-but-some-people-might-still-think-I-am-wearing-pajamas outfit and my snow boots and my long down coat with my steadfast iPhone. (Did I mention I am taking all 365 photos via iPhone?) While wandering through the park as quickly as my short legs could carry me, I collected myriad photos of evergreen trees tinted white, the crisp and glittering snowy ground, the frozen wire backstop on the baseball field, and a squirrel sporting a frosty beard a la Santa Claus. After I felt satisfied I must have something worth sharing and determined my right hand might be headed towards frostbite, I swung around to head back to the car. Then I saw it. The photo of the day. The sun was behind me, and there in front of me was the tallest me I have ever seen. In real life, I’m a measly 5’4″ tall. I’ve always wished I was taller. Both my sisters are. And I get tired of standing on counters to reach things on the top shelf in the cupboard. So when I saw my lean, lanky, and impossibly tall shadow cast before me, I had to immortalize the moment. I’ve never felt that big. Ever. I’ve never felt anything but small. The image spoke to me.

I spent part of my laundry day thinking about this new year and how I could bounce back after what was perhaps not my greatest year yet in 2016. I thought about where I was coming from and where I might want to point my feet next. I thought about the photo I had taken earlier, and it occurred to me that the photo is the embodiment of what I want for myself in 2017. What I need to do this year is stretch. I need to reach higher. I need to be the bigger person. I need to cast a long shadow. I need to realize that I am not limited by my 5’4″ frame. I need to believe I am larger than life.

I have been meaning to get back to writing over the past year but have been more adept at making excuses than recording thoughts. So I am going to continue to take photos as planned for the next 359 days. Then I am going to post them here with a few words or comments or reflections or lines of utter nonsense just to get myself back into the habit of writing every day, no matter how mundane my daily photos might be, no matter how prosaic my thoughts about them are. It’s about the process and the effort, the journey and not the destination. I have to start sometime. I lose a part of myself when I stop writing, and I miss me, dammit.

I have sold myself short for too long. I printed out this photo and put it on the wall next to my desk. Just like my shadow that photo, I am going to be huuuuuuge this year.

 

The Universe Is Listening

The one that got away...

The one that got away…

Most people I know can quickly point to a creature in the animal kingdom that creeps them out. Some people are freaked out by rodents, but I will happily rescue a vole or mouse that tumbles into our window wells. My mother and sisters cannot stand moths while I operate a catch and release program for them in my home. Some may bristle at bats or shrivel over scorpions or cringe at centipedes. Like most people, the members of our household are not immune to animal phobias. Channeling their inner Indiana Jones, both Steve and Luke are terrified of snakes. Joe and I come unhinged over spiders. I once asked Luke why he despised snakes and he replied with great exasperation, “Mom…they have NO legs.” He then asked me why I hate spiders. I told him it’s because they have EIGHT legs. I’ve always thought the four of us became a family for a good reason. When a wolf spider the size of my palm waltzes onto our porch, Steve saves the day. When a snake appears in our basement, I collect it in a plastic bin and toss it back outside. Luke kills the spiders Joe finds, and Joe walks ahead on hikes to make sure there are no snakes in Luke’s path. It just works out.

Tonight as I was making dinner, Steve was in the basement crawling over and rifling through various tubs in the storage room looking for the boys’ ski boots. After a while he appeared in the kitchen with the good news that he had found them. He then came a bit closer, and I could tell something was not quite right. He leaned in and spoke in a hushed voice.

“I found a snakeskin on the floor in the storage room.”

I looked at him. The news didn’t surprise or frighten me, but I know Steve well enough to know that this was not an easy discovery for him.

“Are you sure?” I asked cautiously, eyeing him for signs of an impending freak out. There were none.

“Yes.”

“Where did you find it?”

“I moved the tub, and it was on the floor.”

“Don’t tell Luke,” I warned before continuing. “Do you think it was a newer shed? Could it have been there for a while?” I scanned my brain trying to think of the last time I had been in that room. Could it have been there then?

“Maybe,” he replied.

“I will go check it out after dinner.”

I started laughing to myself. It just figured. Steve would be the one to make that discovery, just as it was completely natural that I was the one who came within inches of the the biggest wolf spider EVER in our window well a month ago. (Oh my holy hell that thing was creepy. I took a photo of it once I was safely inside and it was so big that its eyes glowed red in the camera flash. No lie. But, I digress.)

After dinner, I led the way downstairs to find the offending object. Sure enough. There on the floor of the storage room was a shriveled snakeskin from a snake approximately eighteen inches in length (twenty four inches if you have Steve’s eyes) resting on the remnant carpet. We stood there staring at it before surveying the room, trying to imagine where the damn thing was now. I took a photo of the crinkled skin and started laughing again. The whole idea that there is a snake in my house is ludicrous. I’m not living in southeast Asia. Holy crap on a cracker. This is suburbia! I picked up the skin, gave it a once over, and as surreptitiously as possible carted it out to the garage trash can. I told Steve it was from a garter snake. He, of course, required proof. When I produced a photo of a garter snake on my iPhone, he agreed with my assertion with visible relief. As scary as it is for him to imagine there might be a snake slinking around our house, there must be some comfort in knowing it’s not venomous. I imagine right about now Steve is wishing he wasn’t allergic to cats because this would be a perfect time to unleash one in the basement.

On Halloween, we will have lived in this home on the open space for thirteen years. In that time, we’ve only encountered one snake inside our home (the rattlesnake in the garage doesn’t count) and that was the one I deftly removed. Still, this snakeskin in the storage room advances so many questions. Could the skin have arrived (as Steve hopes) pre-shed and attached to the bottom of one of our camping bins? If not, where did the snake come from? When did it shed its skin? Is it still alive and gliding silently around our basement somewhere? If so, where does it hang out and where does it get its water? How creepy is it going to be when we’re moving out and we find it or its carcass somewhere in that room? How much therapy is Luke going to need if he’s downstairs building Legos and it slithers by? Can a child sue a parent for non disclosure of a reptile?

This morning, as I was sitting in rush hour traffic on my way to the new house to begin Day Three of what will undoubtedly become a biblical, forty days and forty nights of painting, I was thinking about how dull my days have become. Tonight, there is a snake in the basement.  Apparently I have got to stop thinking so much. The universe is listening.

The World Is Full Of Loveliness

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Ruby under her tree

A couple weekends ago, I noticed our dog was staring a little too zealously at the dwarf blue spruce tree near our back patio. Ruby counts that tree as her personal property. Since the first night that she arrived at our home, a tiny border collie puppy accustomed to life outdoors, she’s claimed ownership for that tree and used it as a protected spot for sleeping. She guards her tree like an old man sitting on his porch and waiting for the next interloper to happen by so he can angrily shout, “Get off my lawn!” But in the spring, nearly every year for the past 11 years, a few renegade birds have chosen to brave the threat of dog, and employ the dense, weighty branches of that tree, branches that barely sway in the wind and provide excellent coverage from rain, as their prime nesting spot. In years past, many nests have been built, many eggs have been hatched. One year, our dog Buddy made a meal of two sparrows from one of those nests and broke my heart. I didn’t care if he was a bird dog. That was bad form. The sight of Ruby staring with a bit too much interest into the middle branches of the spruce gave me PTSD. There were more birds there. Birds Ruby was interested in ingesting.

I shooed her away and started poking around to determine the source of her interest. About midway through the tree on the back side, I found her draw. There among the clustered branches was a Eurasian collared dove sitting on a nest. It eyed me cautiously. I began to move some branches to see if I could catch a glimpse into the nest, and with that the bird flew to a nearby tree to watch me. I used one hand to hold the branches down and my other hand to position my phone for a photo. My suspicions were confirmed. Two small, white eggs sat cradled in the center of a nest made from fallen, Austrian-pine needles. I grabbed Ruby and headed back indoors, curiosity satisfied. I waited about fifteen minutes then snuck back within viewing range of the tree to make sure the nesting bird had returned. The bird was there.

The eggs that gave way to birds.

The eggs that gave way to birds.

Over the next couple weeks, I watched the nest waiting to see if the eggs had hatched. We had a cold, rainy and snowy spell in Denver, and I was anxious about my little yard guests. When the sun finally returned today after a nearly 6-day hiatus to dry our drenched yard, I went out to check the nest. There was a bird on it again. My presence shooed it away, and I peered in and found the two eggs replaced by two dark-colored birds with sparse and pale-yellow feathers. I had to do a double take because the birds, at least I thought they were birds, looked more like threadbare tennis balls with the fuzz nearly rubbed off. With the snow melting from the weekend, the temperature was hovering around 45 degrees so I hurried inside, not wanting those babies to be left in the cold for a second longer than necessary. When I checked on the nest shortly thereafter, the father bird (it is the male birds, I read, that nest during the day while the female remains on the nest at night) was in place on top of the babies. All was right with the world. Good papa.

I’m going to be keeping my eye on Ruby over the next few weeks as the baby birds head toward their fledgling state. I’m not up for once again finding out my dog opted for take out rather than nightly kibble. I’d like to know that I helped keep these babies in my yard safe. After all, their parents chose our sturdy, protective spruce tree within close proximity of our perpetually stocked sunflower-seed feeder to raise their brood. Clearly, this shows they have wisdom, not to mention inimitable taste.

Tonight, a friend shared a news story about a toddler boy who was beaten to death in Utah, the apparent victim of anger related to his not toilet training quickly enough. I tried to read the article, but never made it past the title and the first line. I just couldn’t stomach it. When I think back to when my precious sons were three and pooping behind the couch and using their spray hose to put out pretend fires on our heavily textured bathroom walls, certainly there were times when I was frustrated. It happens to the best of us. Luckily, most of us are able to cope. Yet, we humans are animals sometimes. While we have the capacity for great good, we also have the capacity for murder. When events like this hit the news, I think about the birds that have nested in my tree. I appreciate the work they are putting into their parenting gig. Even if it is only instinct, it’s a beautiful ritual that plays out every spring, nature setting an example of patience, dedication, and duty in parenting. Maybe that’s why I am drawn to the doves in our tree. They’re a reminder of the good in the world when we’re focusing on the bad can crush the soul.

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He doesn’t know the world at all
Who stays in his nest and doesn’t go out.
He doesn’t know what birds know best
Nor what I want to sing about,
That the world is full of loveliness.

When dewdrops sparkle in the grass
And earth’s aflood with morning light,
A blackbird sings upon a bush
To greet the dawning after night.
Then I know how fine it is to live.

Hey, try to open up your heart
To beauty; go to the woods someday
And weave a wreath of memory there.
Then if the tears obscure your way
You’ll know how wonderful it is
To be alive. 

–Anonymous child in Theresienstadt Concentration Camp, 1941

The Pelican Brief – A Fishy Tale

This is the kind of goldfish problem I could solve.

This is the kind of goldfish problem I could solve.

And from the Sometimes Things Just Work Out file….

A couple of years ago, someone released a few goldfish into a small lake near Boulder, Colorado. Over time, those few fish turned into a population of approximately four thousand goldfish. These goldfish, harmless though they may seem, could as a non-native species potentially damage the local ecosystem for the native fish and birds, so the people at Colorado Parks and Wildlife began working on fixes to the growing quandary. They had narrowed the possible solutions down to either shocking the fish with electric currents and then feeding them to birds of prey at a local raptor rehabilitation facility or draining the entire lake. As of last Friday, the story, which had been picked up and shared by news agencies around the globe, was still being reported on while officials determined the best way to proceed. Today, however, when folks from the Colorado Parks and Wildlife division showed up with trap nets to get a sample of the fish population in the lake, they found 26 green sunfish, two largemouth bass, 10 painted turtles, 18 tiger salamanders, and only four goldfish.

While they were trying to figure out where the goldfish had gone, wildlife biologists observed some American white pelicans feeding on the lake. The pelicans, which migrate to the area for the summer, presumably spied a lake full of bright orange fish calling to them like a neon sign for an all-night cafe on a deserted highway. After the long, migratory trip up north, I imagine they couldn’t believe their luck to find an all-you-can-eat buffet stocked and spread out for them upon their arrival. Ka-ching. 

Without fuss or taxpayer expense, the fishy problem was solved. And now the folks at Colorado Parks and Wildlife can take eradicating the goldfish at Teller Lake Number 5 off their list of things to do. The pelicans, simply doing what pelicans do, unexpectedly made their jobs a little easier. You have to love it when you have a problem and, while you’re racking your brain trying to figure out exactly how to solve that problem, the universe intervenes and takes care of it for you. That, my friends, is kismet.

Still, I can’t help but think how much trouble we humans create for ourselves. Sometimes we carelessly act without thinking how our choice might play out further on down the road. And when we’re not mucking things up for ourselves that way, we’re tangled in the act of solving the problems we unintentionally caused in the first place. I swear sometimes that we’re really not that far off the ape brains we started with.

I am a firm believer that everything we need as a species, everything we have ever needed, is here for us on this planet and we need only look for it. Sometimes, just sometimes, we get a little nudge to remind us of this fact. Today, it was pelicans from heaven.