Treading lightly the path to enlightenment.

The Ghost of Osceola

 

“Ever since the days of old

Men would search for wealth untold.

They’d dig for silver, and for gold,

And leave the empty holes.

 

And way down south in The Everglades,

Where the black water rolls and the sawgrass waves,

the eagles fly and the otters play

In the land of The Seminole.”

 

John Anderson’s song ran through my head constantly as we traveled the roads outside of Ocala, Florida.

Off to our right, pastures of green. Grazing dairy cows, playful galloping horses. Ancient Live Oak trees spread their limbs and shade all below, adorned and festooned with Spanish Moss. Orange trees and Crepe Myrtle.

Bisecting the Ocala National forest, one can see what this land once looked like. Sand and pines, low-growing palms, the ground dotted with piles made by Gopher Tortoises, making their nests in the warm earth.

In the rear view mirror, “The Villages”. Vast, expansive new communities developing as quickly as houses can be built. Replete with shopping centers, medical arts buildings, recreation centers. Concrete and asphalt, steel and glass, power lines, signs, lights and traffic spewing forth clouds of carbon monoxide.

“Don’t they look so nice and new?” my companions cackle. I purse my lips and swallow hard and keep my thoughts to myself out of some misshapen sense of civility.

 

“Progress came, and took its toll,

And in the name of flood control

They made their plans and they drained the land.

Now the ‘glades are going dry.”

 

The River of Grass. The Everglades. The largest freshwater delta in the world. The porous limestone aquifer, barely a few feet above the level of the sea, filters water beneath the ground, and it spews forth by the billions of gallons. At Silver Springs State Park we see the inverted Niagara. A vent pouring out millions of gallons of crystal clear water. “The volume produced,” said Captain Christopher, piloting our silent, electric glass-bottom boat, “could fill four Olympic swimming pools per minute.” Water so pure you can see the ancient river bottom thirty feet below without distortion or darkness. A Gar passes beneath, four feet long and a quarter of it the snout. An Anhinga swims by below, chasing after lunch.

A sign warns us not to feed or approach the Rhesus Monkeys. If scratched or bitten we’re required to call the CDC immediately. Some well-meaning naturalist, or showman, or perhaps a little of both, brought the monkeys to the park for the viewing pleasure of the public. Released on an island, they were thought to be contained. Little did they know, monkeys are agile and fearless swimmers. Now they roam throughout the park and the adjacent lands beyond. They’ve done well establishing themselves on a foreign continent, as well as the Burmese Python, inadvertently introduced as released pets.

The Florida Panther, a sleek cat occupying the swamp for millennia, is now a threatened species due to human encroachment and over-hunting of the past. Less than 200 individuals left in the wild, and losing habitat daily.

 

“And the last time I walked in the swamp

I stood up on a Cypress stump.

I listened close and I heard the ghost

Of Osceola cry.”

 

I looked at the beauty and diversity of nature here in this one-of-a-kind place, and looked out the other window at the world of humans. Chasing money. Everything has a price. I imagined what this place must have looked like only a few hundred years ago.

 

“So blow, blow Seminole wind.

Blow like you’re never gonna blow again.

I’m calling to you like a long-lost friend,

But I know who you are.

 

Blow, blow from the Okeechobee

All the way up to Micanopy.

Blow across the home of the Seminole,

the alligator and the gar.”

 

I thought of the Seminole and all the other original inhabitants as they watched the destruction of their Eden.

I hung my head in sorrow. I apologized to Osceola and his people. To the panther. To the world at large. On behalf of all those short-sighted and misguided beings that have come before me. Again, ashamed to be human, who now can do nothing but cry.

If ever you enter the swamps and ‘glades, find a quiet place, you may hear the cries of two men mourning for those things that can never be reversed, returned or replaced.

It is Osceola and I.

 

Seek peace,

 

Paz

Sages

Sunrise Buck

 

When I was a young fool and thought I knew everything,

I had something to say to everyone,

and an opinion, a position, on everything.

Now that I am an old fool I realize how little I know.

And I am reticent.

Why waste my breath on incessantly babbling young fools?

Seek peace,

 

Paz

Metamorphosis

 

I meandered from this plastic world,

Of silicone charlatans,

Paper tigers in cardboard cages.

This well-trod path toward Wonder curled.

 

 

With heightened every faculty,

Around each turn another yet,

And the trail it rises higher still,

Each crest a broader world to see.

 

 

And hence do these two worlds collide,

Of the past and the present Me.

Of true and false, of mystery,

Contrasted boldly. Inside, outside.

 

 

Now I fold and gently knead,

And loaf this new Me, let to rise.

A crusty crust, yet soft within,

Warm and whole in thought and deed.

 

 

Please do not think me unkind,

Must you remain in this land of mimes

And brightly backlit images of

This phony world I leave behind.

 

 

For all the colored flags unfurled

And shiny things to catch the eye,

The tin machines and mounds of gold

Are good for naught in Nature’s world.

 

 

My voice I’ve joined with nightingales’,

With eagles I have flown on high,

Held up my gaze to seek the joy

Of blue skies where the storm cloud sails.

 

 

I felt compelled to let you know,

As I blend into the trees,

Am borne aloft upon the breeze,

In case you wonder “Where’d he go?”

 

 

Seek peace,

 

Paz

Knowledge

The learned Bruno

How much greater would you know the tiny seed,

the quaking grass, if it were all the world?

Consider the sparrow,

and how much greater is his knowledge than your own.

Only then will you go forth

with a true appreciation for this world, this life.

All of its fragile beings.

 

Seek peace,

 

Paz

Hawk And Starling

It began with an untimely death. I turned to find, lying on the floor of the warehouse, a European Starling, still and lifeless. It had been the holiday weekend, where in the United States we celebrate the life and mourn the tragic loss of one of America’s greatest heroes, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The evidence was everywhere, on the floor. Telling the tale in clues that could be read easily by the most amateur sleuth. She’d probably entered on Friday, when crews were unloading trucks after a long week. Doing so in the brutal, bitter cold of a January day that would see temperatures below zero. In and out through the overhead doors, then a quick walk-through locking up. Set the alarm and they were bound for the long weekend, Monday a holiday. Unbeknownst to them, the Starling would be locked in.

Here the signs showed where she flew to the transom windows out front and perched. Looking out on a world that, perhaps, she was glad to be spared from. Single digit temperatures and double-digit winds conspired to drive temperatures, with wind chill, to twenty-five below zero over the weekend.

Here she perched on the iron I-beam as she peered out through the windows of the rear overhead door of the loading dock.  Here she flew into the paint room, landed atop a piece of pipework, and looked out the six-light of the huge antique door. Out onto the stacks of pallets at the back of our building. This is our meeting place. Where I call with a whistle for my following of sparrows, and remind them that “Everyone is welcome!”. I call out to the crows, watch the Juncos now in winter, the mockingbird, the blue jays, as I shred and share a couple of slices of bread each morning and noon.

This is no doubt where Starling and I had met before. Where for the last decade, I have come to love their comical movement, their social graces, sharing with one another, with other birds. While the polite sparrows sit and nibble with elegant manners, starlings run about, stacking bits of bread in their beaks before flying off. Starlings are beautiful birds. Striking plumage in streaks and stripes, iridescent black echoing every color of the rainbow.

She was not in danger of slamming herself against the glass, as last year I went to each window in the place and added translucent stripes to make it visible to birds. Collide-Escape is the product I used, after watching, of all things, a starling knock itself nearly unconscious trying to fly through the sparkling clean portal. Dazed, he stood there on the warehouse floor as humans walked past. I brought him outside and set him down on his tiny feet on the front dock, in the shade. Twenty minutes later, he would fly off, hopefully good as ever.

Now, Tuesday morning, she lay dead on the floor. Three days locked within. I felt responsible for the death. In odd, gripping moments this would wash over me, as I reminded the child within of all those grownup things that are said at a time like this. Everything must die one day. It was an accident. It’s not your fault. One of so many starlings, how could she be missed? Nothing relieved my childish mourning for the tiny helpless creature. A creature that would now be alive if not for me, and mankind’s intrusion on her natural world.

I walked solemnly outside with the little corpse. Carried her, slowly and gently, to the brush line out back. The closest thing to natural and nature I could find for her. I placed her on a limb. A practice we call (pardon the outdated phrase) an “Indian Burial”. Here now she would return to the Earth from which her life sprang to begin with. She may become a welcome meal for a hungry scavenger, or perhaps decay and decompose there, mingling with the grass and the dust of terra firma.

I could not stop myself from returning to the back window. I consciously avoided looking directly at the place where she was enshrined. If still there, the little body would sadden me. If she was gone…somehow it seemed that would sadden me, too. As I looked out the window, the sky dimmed. Shooting over my head and then in front of my window, a dark cloud of a thousand starlings swarmed. A swiftly moving organic overcast. Darting this way and that in one gigantic choreographed ball of birds. They lighted in a tree at the edge of the back lot. I thought of a crow’s funeral. How crows will gather quietly at a place where one of theirs has fallen. They would not act like the gregarious, cackling mobs of their reputation, but would perch in reverence, one by one flying off in silence.

It was then I saw the Cooper’s Hawk, perched in an adjacent tree. On the hunt, looking for a meal. Another swirling flock transited the sky, and behind it, the hawk leaped into the air. With zig-zagging aerobatics, he charged into the black mass. A twist, a turn, a swoop, a dive, the incredibly agile bird flew through the frigid air. The hawk returned to the tree empty-handed, awaited the next opportunity. It was so cold outside, I thought, to fly so quickly through the air. It must be uncomfortable, to say the least, yet there was no choice if a hawk wanted to survive. To live. To thrive in this natural state. Conflicting thoughts slapped at me from either side of my brain. Oh, the poor starlings. I didn’t want to witness another killed today. Yet, there is the hawk, an equally admirable and well-liked avian friend. I did not want to hasten his demise either.

The thoughts would swirl around my aged and feeble brain for days. Perhaps I would find a place to leave a dish of water, in the event this scenario were repeated. Perhaps I could make some kind of hatch that would open to allow a trapped bird to escape. I still can’t stop thinking of the Starling, looking out the window at freedom. So close, and yet denied. The vertical Collide-Escape stripes on the windows looking like prison bars.

Another flock of starlings headed for the Gathering Tree. The hawk was airborne again.

“Everyone is welcome.” My heartfelt mantra seemed simplistic and shallow. I’m feeding the feral cat with a small dish, situated just thirty feet from the pallet pile that serves as dining table for the sparrows. How do those things reconcile?

There are no rules for such things. Cats will eat the sparrows. Hawks will eat the starlings. The cat lives and the hawk lives and the starlings live with this knowledge. I am trying to bring myself closer to their world. A world not bound by emotional ramblings and Disneyesque fantasy. Then I realize that I can be this me, and feel these things, and mourn for the starlings while cheering for the hawk. Really quite simple, if you don’t overthink it.

Everyone is welcome.

I guess that includes the sentimental, childish man who will give Indian burials to dead birds, feed feral cats, and feel sorry for the hawk in the cold.

We are, truly, all in this together.

Bath Time For Starlings

Seek peace,

 

Paz

Old Bear

The old bear limped the last few yards along this ancient and intimately familiar path, until he burst from the thicket on the banks of his own private, secret pond. He gently eased himself into the placid pool. One step, two steps, paws sinking ankle-deep in the mucky bottom. A third step, and he was immersed to his neck. He let the chilly bath fold over him.

Washing away the mud and blood, the cool water easing the dull pains of his injuries. He drew a deep breath and let himself sink. A brief and mild stinging in the eyes, then total silence as his ears submerged. He hung there, buoyed by the water, lifted and embraced, the cold a tonic to aching muscles and fresh flesh wounds. If only he could stay here. Right here, beneath the soft, sheltering water. He drank in another moment of stillness before his lungs began to burn and pull at his instincts. He burst from the water, exhaling, and drawing a deep breath of the piney forest air. He shook his head violently to throw off the water, only to be reminded, cringing, of the pain at the base of his neck.

Directly above him, a black crow alighted on a dead elm branch.

“Gwak.” he called out as he eyed the bear.

“You’re early, Crow.” came the reply. “I am not yet dead. You cannot peck my eyes out. Not yet.” He heaved a sigh, rolled onto his back as he floated out from the shore.

He had had no intention of fighting that golden autumn day. There were far too many plump, ripe blackberries to be eaten, their canes, top-heavy with fruit, bowing to bear browsing height. He hadn’t even seen the interloper. A bear reaching maturity. Venturing forth from the safety and security of mother’s watchful eye. Time now to find his own home, establish his own territory. To begin that lifelong and never-ending process of defending one’s ground and fighting for mating rights. Old Bear had paid no attention to the sow scarfing down blueberries at the distant hedgerow. Hadn’t seen the strapping Romeo until he charged from the brush.

His countenance was immediately recognizable. After so many years, so many mating seasons, past is prologue. And here now was the latest model, the newest offering. Young and powerful, eager and energetic, bold and fearless. In his rippling muscles could be seen an impressive beast in the peak of condition. Hormones and youthful energy fueled the charge, eyes fixed and gleaming, nostrils flaring, grunting growls warning of the imminent collision.

What was one to do? There is no place in bear ethic for acquiescence, peaceful withdrawal, surrender. Almost without control he turned, planted his feet, put on his war face and prepared for the onslaught. There was no backing down or backing out. This had been his meadow, his dominion, for more seasons than he could remember. This very scene replayed year after year. Going all the way back to the day when he was the challenger on the battlefield. It was his rippling muscles, bone-crushing jaws and eight-inch claws dominating the competition that day. Not one or two, but three contenders sent running off to the safety of the wood. It would be the last day of the last Old Bear to be the Old Bear here. He would amble slowly into the forest, one long, last melancholy look over his shoulder, never to be seen again.

The first blow seemed the hardest. It shook him so, his eyes lost focus for a second, and he was shoved back onto a hindquarter, indicating the challenger topped his own weight by several hundred pounds. For his size, however, he was not slow, and took advantage of the old bear’s semi-reclining position, reaching in with huge jaws, lined with sparkling white, sharp young teeth. The first blood spilled.

Adrenaline and endorphins flooding both brains, the defender was quick to his feet. Smaller and older was he, yet to his advantage were the many battles he’d fought and won. The newcomer charged again, but the old-timer went low, nearly rolled himself at the rear legs of the upright youngster, who toppled in a cloud of dust. The old man was on him now, gnashing teeth and plunging his snout toward the neck of his opponent. A good bite and a twist, a patch of fur rent from its moorings. With surprise and shock at the pain, the younger bear scrambled to gain an upper hand. As the old bull came around for another mouthful, the younger swung his heavy foreleg equipped with razor-sharp claws. If not for a last-second dodge, the defender would have lost more than a piece of ear.

On the battle raged. Youth and strength and stamina slowly overtaking skills, maturity and aging sinew. Bound by instinct and without alternative, the aged bruin came around again and again. A third round, a fourth, a fifth. Dust and flying fur and spatters of blood surrounded the warriors. Now the young bear began to doubt himself. An anxiety deep in his gut told him there was perhaps good reason why this was, before him, the reigning Lord of the Glen, the King of this hill. Blow after blow met with resilience and tenacity and a seeming total lack of fear. He began to wonder if this was indeed worth it. Surely there were other sows, other fields, other hills, where success could be had without such exertions and pain.

The old man was tiring. Winded now, he began to rely more on wit than might. Used all of his best tricks; dodging and weaving, placing the sun behind him, throwing dirt, running circles around his foe. One by one the newcomer worked through the oppositions, continued to stand and charge as strong and fast as at the first.

“If I turn my back, he will have me.” Dozens of such back-turnings were recalled. The years he watched the rumps of the vanquished racing off to shelter and safety.

One misstep, and the blow landed squarely at his temple, almost knocking him unconscious, his vision went black. He felt himself fall to his side and roll. His sight slowly returning, all he could do was strain to see the next attack, look for the death-blow that would end this battle. The last battle. His last day to be the Old Bear here.

Suddenly, he felt the Earth drop away beneath him, as in his partial blindness he rolled off the edge of a precipice. Down into the gaping maw of the river gorge. Free falling twenty feet, he slammed onto the solid ledge of shale on his side, cracking ribs, his head bouncing off the rock before he slid off the edge of this shelf. Another twenty-foot drop and he landed on his opposite side, crashing down through Juneberry and Thistles, twisted tangles of grapevines and willow saplings, and coming to rest on the river bank. Stones and dirt and dust followed his descent and settled on and around him.

He laid there quite a while, assuming the New Bear would track him down to insure his demise and retreat. Near silence reigned over the sunny fall day. No wind stirred the leaves in the trees. No birds could be heard calling. The only sound the tinkling water a foot away. He wondered for a moment if he was dead. He rolled to his feet and was immediately convinced otherwise. Death could never be this painful. His eyes closed against their will.

When finally he awoke, the full moon was watching over him. Its soft light illuminating the trickling water, the banks of the gorge, the shrubs and trees, now devoid of color in the light of darkness. Fevered days and nights passed and merged and blended until the moon set three-quarters full, nearing the end of this odyssey.

It seemed so long ago, now in the light of day, floating in his own secluded reservoir. His secret, sacred place. Here no ill could best him. There was no sickness or injury, nor malady of the heart or spirit that could not be cured by this magical place. This is where he would choose to die. Where no fear could invade. No challengers would arrive to try to commandeer this for themselves. There would remain only the crows. Welcome friends and shareholders in this sanctuary.

And when he would finally heave his last breath, the crows would gather and mourn his passing. Perched wing to wing in silent reverie, the funeral would last from the first red light of the dawn, to the last rays of the golden sunset.

And then they would peck his eyes out.

And this would be agreeable to him, as he wouldn’t need them any more. They were welcome to them. They and the Coyotes and the Skunks and the Fishers. All the flying, hopping, running and crawling things that might regard his passing as something of a bonanza.

They were welcome to his hide and his flesh, his aged bones and cartilage, the entrails of his very core. He would need none of these. Nor the challenger or the sow, nor the meadow or the blackberries. There would be no need for sharp claws and rippling muscles, no need for the efforts of the hunt. No hunger. No pain.

There would be just this, forever.

Floating in peaceful solitude on his dear old friend, this most familiar and beloved patch of water. This wild, wet Heaven.

Suddenly, snapping branches and crunching humus invaded his dream-like thoughts. Snapped open his resting eyes, sharpened the focus of his ears, now one-quarter smaller overall since the assault. He was finally coming to finish the job, one could presume.

Coming to insist that even this distant and once-welcoming, sheltered and secure vestige was no longer refuge from all that there is in this great wide world from which to seek it.

Old Bear lay floating on his back, unmoved. Let him swim out here and drag me to shore. Or drown me.

Or pace impatiently on the banks of the pond, in a hurry to grow old faster, and be the New Old Bear on his last day to be the Old Bear here.

Cracking limbs and padding footfalls of the largest predator on the continent grew nearer, until the raspberry canes and hoosiers parted.

Old Bear would give no satisfaction if the intruder expected any sign of panic, any look of fear.

He looked up to the crow in the elm.

“Fare thee well, Crow.” he bade, as he slowly and deliberately directed his gaze to the commotion at the shore.

It was the sow.

In Days of Winter

Sumac Snow

 

In these, our bitter days of winter,

As bare trees stand, their feet ice cold in the snow,

Above our heads icy North Winds blow,

And from my eaves hang frozen crystal splinters,

 

 

Stalagtite Ice

Let us then retire to our rooms.

Where we’ll sip hot tea and clasp our hands

And know the warmth of love still stands,

While overhead, the Winter Rage looms.

 

Blizzard of ’18

 

No embers of wood, nor burning coal,

As their fire radiates its heat

Upon our faces, upon our feet,

Can, as the heart, so warm the soul.

 

 

Embers

 

Seek peace,

 

Paz

Learned

As I learn more

I realize

Just how little

I know.

 

Seek peace,

 

Paz

Welcome the New Year!

Here we are again. The shortest day of the year draws to a close.

With the Solstice my new year begins.

Sure, we’ll have a party in 10 days and we’ll turn that paper hanging in the kitchen.

(Or rather, we’ll hang a new calendar for the “paper new year”.)

 

My celebration began yesterday. A kind of New Year’s Eve feeling filled me as the 20th expired.

Today the Big Blue ball on which we ride crosses imaginary lines that would be measured in the millions of miles.

As we conserve our angular momentum on our course around the gravity anchor of our solar system, the tilt of our wobbling globe begins to be exposed to increasing amounts of daylight. Starting tomorrow.

Each year, the time lapsed between my longest day and my shortest seems to pass more quickly.

This cannot be, of course, in a system that has had 14 billion years to find its rhythm.

For me, each day is a page in The Book of A Thousand Seasons that makes up my life.

I clearly recall standing under a warm, June sky, setting my sights on this next milepost.

In the past three hundred sixty-five and one-quarter days I have filled my countless hours with more beauty than can be related in a single volume.

From the sky to the water, from the valleys to the mountains.

With family and friends. With my speechless canine companion.

With children and grandchildren and siblings and nieces and nephews.

I have exchanged correspondences with some of the finest people I have ever known.

I have felt kindred.

I have spent silent hours in nature’s lap.

Watched the moon and stars transit the sky.

Waved hello to the Robins of Spring, and goodbye to the Geese of Autumn.

I have taken down from the shelves of the past the warmest memories of my dearest friends.

Lingered over them. Let them fill my spirit.

I have cried.

For my people. For the people of the world.

For my planet, and the delicate living things that inhabit it.

I have laughed.

With the snow. With the sparrows.

With the sun and moon.

I have loved.

All that is laid before me.

All that which my wondering eyes behold.

 

And the Great Cosmos has lived and loved and laughed and cried with me.

For another year.

 

And, starting tomorrow, I shall do it all again.

 

Happy New Year!

 

Seek peace,

 

Paz

 

Reading Rabbit

 

Which came first: the writer, or the writer’s heart?

The act of composing our personal journals causes us to examine the contents of our lives, their impact and influence and relative values. To recall and relive the truly meaningful parts, both high and low, winnow them to their bare essentials, and draft them into ordered and concise prose.

The act of living our lives as “writers” causes us to reflect constantly, day in and day out, on the river of life as we ride along its smooth, wandering courses, run its rapids, or plunge helplessly over its waterfalls.

How will we perceive ourselves, our writers’ hearts, when we boil this down to our barest truths? How have we learned and grown from such self-knowing and reflection? How will it bear us up through our days ahead?

Over time, the writer and “the writer’s heart” continue to blend, until this becomes second nature to us.

To view our world as filled with colors and wonders bright and dark,

and living moments that shall, for better or worse,

be indelibly inscribed upon our souls.

 

Seek peace,

 

Paz

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