Treading lightly the path to enlightenment.

Posts tagged ‘death’

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.

Page Two

This is the second of a two-part journal entry. For the backstory leading to this, read the previous post “The birds, the bees, the cat, the possum and the people”. I realize both posts are quite lengthy, and apologize for that. I could have broken it into four posts, but wanted to maintain a good continuity.

Paz

Okay, so here’s this possum caught in a live-catch trap and it’s ten o’clock in the morning so the sun is beating down on the black plastic trash bag which covers the back half of the trap to camouflage and conceal it. I seriously doubt this possum is what the Market Manager was intent on catching. I think it wandered over here in the night, probably from the wild areas between here and the Hudson River. He had said they thought there were raccoons roosting in the Black Horse farm building.

Now, there are two more qualifiers that influence or explain my following actions. One is another part of my personal philosophy, made almost respectable by being a quote from Charles Dickens. In his story “A Christmas Carol”, the main character Ebenezer Scrooge has survived a night with the spirits compelling him to change his selfish ways and to open his heart to the world, particularly those less fortunate. When he awakens to find he has been granted the opportunity to live and pursue good works, he is overwhelmed with joy. And humility. Realizing the error of his ways, he breaks into a brief song to the tune of “All Around The Mulberry Bush”;

I don’t know anything.

I never did know anything.

But now I KNOW that I don’t know.

All on Christmas morning.

So that’s item one, where I admit I have no idea what it is that I don’t know. I bear this in mind always, along with a teaching from Richard Bach’s book “Illusions”: Everything you know could be wrong. I’m just doing the best I can with what I have.

The other qualifier may be difficult for me to describe. I know that seems odd coming from a wordy poet, but it’s a feeling deep in my soul that I must try to relate. I have this relationship with the Universe. The Great Cosmos I call it. If you’ve read anything of substance at ACZ, you’ll know I feel as insignificant as one could possibly be in a giant universe. Just a speck. Less than that. Not even a grain of sand on a beach, but a chip off a grain of sand in a limitless expanse of space. At the same time, I feel part of it all, like the grain of sand. Every grain of sand matters, and is needed to make a beach. No one grain of sand could be proved to be more important, more significant, more worthy than the next. Herein lies my value in my relationship with the Universe. I am equal. Equal to every grain of sand and every tree. Every human on the planet and every other animal from the blue whale to the black gnat. Equal to every planet and satellite, every comet and meteor. To every last bit of every last inch of an immeasurable Universe, I am part of it all. My solemn agreements, my silent prayers, if you will, are directly between me and the Universe. We have a close and inexorable bond. Therefore, I answer only to the Cosmos. As I describe what follows, there are a hundred optional actions and endings. Some people may vehemently espouse their versions of what is right, what is not. What is fair to wildlife, what is duty to humankind. What is callous and cruel, what is kindness and caring. Sorry folks, this is between me and my Cosmos.

My first step is to open the trap. Show the possum the door. Touch the ground as if she’s a trained dog. I speak softly in a sort of baby talk. “Come on. You can come out now.” In my best effort at Disneyesque fantasy, I anticipate the possum will walk out. Perhaps wink at me over its shoulder as it makes its escape. Well, that didn’t happen. I suppose possum has never seen “Bambi” or “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”. In her cornered, trapped, fearful defensive place, possum sees a giant animal, twenty times her size, trying to dig her out to kill and eat her. Reality knocks on my brain’s door and says “As long as you hang around the trap, she’ll stay frozen in the rear corner under the trash bag. GO AWAY!” Liberation of the possum the primary goal, I heed this advice and disappear, foregoing the opportunity to bask in the glory of watching the culmination of my efforts, the gleeful trotting off of the former captive.

I give it a while but I’m fascinated with the possum and curious and impatient as the rings deep within my spirit that remain a ten-year-old boy. I check the trap, and she’s still huddled in the corner, waiting for darkness, probably. I tried tipping the trap up and dumping her out. Unceremonious but effective if it worked. It did not. She hung onto the trap as if it was her home. Okay, I go away again for a while. Half an hour later, she still hasn’t moved. Okay, I grab a short stick and have the stick prod her from the back part of the trap so she’ll move toward the door. No dice. She’s not afraid of a stick, and the corner under the trash bag feels like the safest safety available to her. If I was at home I’d carry the whole trap out into the woods, put the open door up against some dense cover, and walk away confidently, content the animal would eventually walk out of the trap. Here at the Market, I don’t want to get caught undoing the trapping, so I’m trying to be a little stealthy.

“Alright. If Guy from Market comes around now you’re as good as dead, so it’s time to go, like it or not.” I thought-transfer this to the possum to apologize in advance for the somewhat rough and rude action to follow. I grabbed a piece of threaded metal rod from the shop at work. In hindsight, I should have used the broom handle. I pushed the rod through the trash bag at the back of the trap to nudge her. This just made her redouble her defensive stance. So I broke down and pushed harder. “Come on.” I’m speaking out loud in my talking-to-animals-and-babies voice, “You gotta get out of there!” I pushed on her more. Re-positioned the rod. Prodded her again. Assertively, I pushed against her to literally shove her out of the trap and she finally moved. She needed another prod and then, yes, success! She saw the opening or decided it was less risk or discomfort, and she trotted out of the trap and across the gravelly ground, disappearing beneath a stack of pallets behind the buildings. I hurriedly reset the trap to appear nothing had sprung it.

I felt pretty good about my liberation of the trapped animal for about a minute or so. That’s when I saw the baby. Yep, baby possum. Almost naked, it was probably a week or so old. It looks like a newborn kitten in that first week when they can’t even walk but try to move in stumbling fashion. It was lying in the open in the direct sun, about a foot away from the closest part of the pallet pile. At first my brain thought it had crawled out of its nest, looking for mother while she was incarcerated. I looked beneath the pallets and metal carts for signs of traffic or a nest. Wait a minute. Brain catching up. Hey, opossums are marsupials. The baby would have been carried in Mother’s pouch. Oh no. She had dropped this one as she ran away in self defense. This thing was tiny. As small as any kitten I’ve seen born, and yet baby possums complete their development in the pouch. This one barely had half a coat of thin, fine fur, and was probably just about blind.

Then it made the tiniest noise. You might imagine a newborn kitten trying to meow for its mother. Sometimes their mouths open and no sound comes out. Sometimes a breathy squeak. Eventually, they learn to “mew”. Possums don’t meow. I don’t know what repertoire they have, but the only sound I’ve ever heard come from a possum is a hiss, like an angry cat. I guess that’s what baby possum was trying, but it came out as just the shortest burst. As if you were trying to demonstrate the sound a “K” makes without using your breathing, you know? Well I figured baby is calling Mom, so after placing baby out of the sun and beneath a cart, I too make K noises, hoping to attract mother’s attention to return for the foundling. After a minute, I go away to give her the opportunity to do so. The ten-year-old needs to check the situation every two minutes. The wildlife liberator knows you should give it twenty. It’s now midday, and the time of the hour at which I’d break for lunch. One last check on the orphan. Still there. Still bobbing its tiny head, moving its tiny feet almost ineffectively.  Still barking for Mother. “Let the Cosmos handle it.” I say, probably aloud, and I brush the sparrows off the Funbus and head out for lunch. Possum has a quiet spell to come back for her kid, and I can keep ten-year-old Me from obsessing over the orphan.

Lunch does not go so well. I can’t stop thinking of the orphan. I know I can’t save and raise a newborn possum, but I could probably make it feel warm and safe until its passing. I bail on lunch. I buy a pint of whole milk at the convenience store, and head for Rite-Aid to buy an eye dropper for feeding. Rite-Aid does not sell eye droppers, by the way. Maybe no one does any more. Everything like it is a graduated syringe so you can measure your baby’s liquid Tylenol and squirt it into their mouth. I search long and hard. I ask Jim The Employee to help. No eye dropper. Now I am looking for ear drops or Mercurochrome. Bottles with eye droppers. I’ll buy that and wash the dropper out. Nope. Nothing has a dropper any more. Finally, I purchase a syringe bulb, a nasal aspirator, thinking it’s at least soft-ish. So armed, I return to work. I’m ready to warm the milk and offer it to the orphan. I’m thinking I will put it in my shirt pocket. It’ll be warm and in a “pouch” and might even be fooled into a sense of normalcy, comfort, security for the matter of mere hours I expect the thing to live without its own mother.

At the spot where I’d last seen the naked, wriggling baby, there was nothing. I spent quite some time on hands and knees, looking everywhere the wobbling, toddling tiny thing could have moved to. I made a few K noises, listened intently for the tiny whisper of a bark. Nothing.

And so my tale anticlimactically draws to a close. What happened to Baby Possum will forever remain a mystery. I’d like to think Mother retraced her steps, looking for the “missing one”. Or perhaps she heard the tiny thing’s tiny bark. Mothers are in-tuned to such things.

Down at the Hudson River, less than a quarter-mile from here, I’ll often see Bald Eagles. Majestic birds we almost lost with our penchant for killing things, in this case via DDT in pesticides. Eagles are scavengers. Here in my parking lot, crows abound. Grackles and Jays, too. Perhaps one of these had found a healthy meal.

That afternoon I stood on the back dock.  As I looked out, I saw Cat sitting under a car. Cat looked me in the eye, and I looked back. “Hi kitty.” I said, which hitherto had the immediate effect of making her run. She sat and looked at me. She looked away, then back again. She seemed relaxed. Now that winter is over, I can no longer fill the dish.

You see, we need to be vigilant about vermin here.

 

Seek peace,

 

Paz

Bursting

 

By some, the event may have been called

A loss,

A tragedy.

My heart

Burst open

And love spilled out.

It flows as it never has.

Easier with

Each

Passing

Day.

 

Seek peace,

 

Paz

Moon and Star

 

Capricious Moon

Moon and Star, my guideposts, my lifelong journey-mates.

Each evening I look into the vast Cosmos, and there stands my Star.

Constant. Vigilant. Unmoving, unwavering. True and final as fate.

This giant fireball, just a speck from here, is my lighthouse. No matter what life brings to me on this tiny blue ball, Star remains steadfast. It is comfort and security. All else not in my control, all things that may seek and befall me, fall away before the great, silent, faithful friend.

One day, Star will carry me home.

My Moon is capricious. One day she’s up, and another she is not. Her gamesmanship at hide and seek is second to none. Trickster and magician and muse. Today she is a big, round ball, bringing “the luster of mid-day to objects below”. Tomorrow she will be a sliver, rising in the morning, setting in the afternoon. As upside down as she can be. Each day is a challenge, as the seeker, to find Moon, “Tag!”.

Star is my anchor, reassuring me always that this little life, this tiny speck, is but a part of The Great Wonder. Never to die, but to return to the Cosmos from which I came.

And Moon? Moon is much younger, spritely, lively. Moon is on the move, and she always reminds me that I am, too.

Star and Moon and Earth ever constant in motion, I follow their leads wherever they may take me.

Always Home.

 

Seek peace,

 

Paz

 

Tree Attitude

“Getting back to the roots” of Armchair Zen, so to speak. This post was originally published in May, 2011.Stand for somethingThe mighty oak from the tiny acorn grows.

This old adage seems to reflect a wonder and reverence for this amazing feat.

I love trees, I really do. I could easily personify them, impune them with human attributes, worship them as spirits. Something about a tree, standing firm and tall in the same place, day in, day out, year ’round…it brings a sense of stability, longevity, solidity, groundedness.

I like to subscribe to what I call Tree Philosophy, or Tree Attitude. So many things in our lives appear to be a conspiracy of circumstances, the times we live in, where we live, the way we live, with whom we live. Choices we made back in…when? Things we shoulda woulda or coulda done.

My grandfather always told me “Take shoulda, woulda and coulda in one hand, and a nickel in the other, and see which one will buy you a donut.”

Trees waste no time on such worries. A little tree seed plants its first tendrils into the soil—and is committed! From day one, that tree is going to live or die, stand or fall, right on that very same spot.

I like to imagine trees thinking about that. “I’m going to be the best tree I can right here, where I am, working with what I have.”

This reminds me of one of my favorite quotes, from President Theodore Roosevelt: “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.”  That is, after all, a description of our entire lives, really, isn’t it?  We are where we are, there’s no denying that. We must work with what we have, be it employment, a dwelling, our people, money, transportation, brain power, energy or spirit. And doing the best we can within these parameters is all we can do.

For philosophers such as President Roosevelt and myself, this means we don’t throw in the towel just because the odds are stacked against us, the task is overwhelming, or we’re short on assets, even if tasked with great challenges or the seemingly impossible. It also means recognizing that there are limits to what we can do, and we shouldn’t punish ourselves for being unable to do more.

I imagine a tree’s life is similar, but to the greatest extent. Tree doesn’t agonize over location. Perhaps prospects for success might be better elsewhere. Perhaps the climate is something humans would want to escape. Perhaps the very home of Tree is in a precarious place, on the side of a cliff, at the edge of an eroding riverbank, or at the last edge of the tree line, far up a tall mountain. Tree can’t move, but can only hang on and throw all of its efforts into the present.

Neither can Tree do anything about the changes in its life. Perhaps it’s struck by lightning, maybe loses a limb or suffers damage to its trunk. Perhaps humans come along and saw pieces off. Maybe its roots are immersed “knee-deep” in water during a flood season, or a drought season makes survival difficult.

If Tree is an evergreen, it will keep it’s needles as it goes into a dormant season. Granted, I have wished more than once that I could have a dormant season for myself, to rest and recuperate from the rigors of my own seasons, storms, lightning, chain saws, floods and blizzards. If Tree is deciduous, it will awaken, depending where Tree lives, sometime between February and May. As it stretches its limbs to the sky, it gets down to the business at hand: budding, developing and flowering. Sounds a bit like our lives again, doesn’t it? For its season, however long it may be (and without groaning that it is either too short or too long) Tree will produce thousands of leaves, each one a near-perfect copy of the others. For pines, tens of thousands, maybe millions of needles. Year one, year 50, year 200, Tree goes right on doing what it is born to do, producing those leaves or needles, growing when the conditions are right, and resting when it is necessary.

Tree will keep up the good fight, no matter what, and will try until defeat and death. As it is with all living things (and, in fact all things in the universe on its grand scale), eventually there is an end. I like to imagine Tree retiring. “I’m going to lay down, right here, next to the rest of you.” At that time, Tree is okay with this end, whether it is after 5 years or 500. Call it destiny, call it nature, call it the randomness of the universe, the circle of all things.

Saplings can be heard all around “Good job, Tree, and thank you for your silent service. You have been a fine example of patience and perseverance. A great neighbor in our community, shading the tender shoots and plants at your base, welcoming, with open limbs, the wildlife; squirrels, chipmunks, woodpeckers, sapsuckers, wasps, and anything else that came to you seeking refuge, a home, safety, security, something meaningful and solid that we can know and understand and rely on.”

Even after death, Tree remains an influence. Flora and fauna of certain types will flourish thanks to Tree’s legacy. The many generations growing around Tree will look on, seeking and seeing the testimony to its determination, learning and benefitting from the example, and the knowledge that Tree stood by them, and gave selflessly whenever called upon to do so.

I don’t need riches, recognition or immortality. If my life, and its own end, can be to any degree worthy of Tree’s example, I too will be able to lay down in peace, and return to the earth from which I came.

Be at peace.

Paz

22 Suicides Every Day

As a proud American, this post is dedicated to Veterans’ Day. It is addressed mainly to my fellow Americans, currently enjoying the liberty purchased with the lives of Veterans. We cannot thank them enough. This one, humble and grateful American wishes to thank all those who serve and have served. As a member of The Wounded Warrior Project Advance Guard, I’m doing what I can to support Veterans returning from duty. I hope you’ll sign up, too. If I can get just one person to join me, it will be a small achievement. For our Wounded Warriors, many say their goal is to stop one fellow Veteran from committing suicide. Wounded Warrior Project can help. Please join, give, or visit http://www.woundedwarriorproject.org to read the stories of these Veterans, and how this organization is saving the lives of real heroes. In my book, EVERY VETERAN IS A HERO.

-Paz

US Navy Veteran Jessica Coulter

That’s not a dramatic, sensationalized title of this post. It is a sad fact.

On average, twenty-two United States Veterans commit suicide each day. 22 per day.

All Veterans do not look like “big, strong men”, nor do they all bear physical signs of disability following their service.

This post is about the Wounded Warrior Project. Jessica, above, and 100,000 other Veterans of U.S. Service now benefit from this organization.

Sadly, there are 22 Veterans on any given day that can’t fight “the brave fight” any longer, and feel their only way out is suicide.

US Marines Veteran Eric Delion

Not all Veterans returning from combat have scars or missing limbs. Many suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and many suffer from Traumatic Brain Injuries, physical damage to the brain caused by continued exposure to concussive explosions or direct contact with explosive devices. Many Veterans suffer from “survivor’s guilt”. They feel guilty they are still alive, and in many cases physically unharmed, while the brothers and sisters they serve with are killed and injured on a daily basis.

US Army Veteran Bill Geiger

While these are some nice photos of whole people, many Veterans seeking the assistance of The Wounded Warrior Project are not so. Many men and women return from battle with serious injuries. Missing limbs, scars, burns. Some face long recoveries, repeated surgeries, painful recuperations. Some would rather have died on the battlefield. Some wish to die now.

US Air Force AND Army Veteran Keith Sekora

The Wounded Warrior Project is comprised of Veterans that have connected with others that can truly understand what they have experienced and continue to experience after service. Many members are directly involved with outreach, seeking out those that can benefit from WWP’s programs and people. In so many stories, you’ll read how Veterans feel they are alone and adrift until they find fellow Veterans that have gone through much of the same things.

US Army Veteran Josh Sommers-and mom, Lisa Hopkins

It’s not only Veterans, but their families too that are affected by the trauma of battle, injuries and recovery. Spouses, children and parents are caught up in this nearly as much as the Veteran. It can be a very difficult transition back to civilian life, even without serious injuries or handicaps. Many Veterans speak of flashbacks, nightmares, sleep disorders, rage, guilt and depression. The Wounded Warrior Project supports the whole family.

US Veteran Anthony Villareal

This excerpt is from Mr. Villareal’s bio at Wounded Warrior project.org.

On June 20, 2008, in Afghanistan’s Helmand Province, Anthony Villarreal’s life changed in an instant when a roadside bomb blew up the truck he was driving, setting off a secondary explosion from his vehicle’s ammunition.

“More than 30 percent of my body surface was burned. My right hand had to be amputated and my left fingers as well. I had third-degree burns everywhere. I was in a coma for three months, and it was like I was having an out-of-body experience – like watching yourself sleep. I didn’t think I had lived through it. In a way, I didn’t.”

Anthony’s journey back to life started with two grueling years at Brooke Army Medical Center and more than 70 surgeries.

“Before I discovered Wounded Warrior Project, I was shy and timid about my looks and appearance. I withdrew from people and was always cautious about my surroundings, never doing much. Now, it’s like I’m carefree. I’m more outspoken and outgoing than ever before.” 

Anthony credits his emotional breakthrough to the self-confidence he’s received from the support of his fellow injured veterans.

“We can relate to each other. We don’t judge each other, and it makes me feel pretty awesome that my experiences can help others deal with their experiences. I understand unbearable human suffering. When you can shoulder that burden for someone else, the good feeling you get is like walking on water.”

However, Anthony is quick to point out that the bad days can still overwhelm the best of warriors.

Please visit http://www.woundedwarriorproject.org to meet many of these heroic people and read their stories in their own words. Join or give if you can.

As the motto of The Wounded Warrior Project says,

The greatest casualty is being forgotten.

On this day, perhaps more than others, seek peace,

 

Paz

A letter from the Governor of New York State

Dear readers: I live in “Upstate” New York, about 50 miles west of the state capital of Albany. New York City is about 170 miles away. Still, we are all New Yorkers. New York City, New York country, all of the United States, the western hemisphere, the rest of the world…we are all citizens of this planet. We all share in the pain. As Governor Cuomo put it, “…we know that ultimately, terror will not change New York. We will not be deterred. New Yorkers continue to be New Yorkers, and we will not change our lives and let terror win.”

-Paz 

Fellow New Yorker, 

In the aftermath of yesterday’s cowardly act of terror in lower Manhattan, I speak on behalf of all New Yorkers in saying that our thoughts and prayers are with those whose lives were lost, their families, and those who are still recovering.

Our first responders did an extraordinary job. We have the finest emergency personnel on the globe. They work with skill, speed and discipline to keep New York safe yesterday and every day, and we are thankful to them.

New York is an international symbol of freedom and democracy. This can make us a target for those who oppose these values. But we have lived through this pain before, and we know that ultimately, terror cannot change New York. We will not be deterred.

We go forward together and we go forward stronger than ever. New Yorkers will continue to be New Yorkers, and we will not change our lives and let terror win. We are smarter, stronger, and better than those who seek to harm us.

Ever Upward,

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo

Bone White Moon

 

Little stir has the air,

Yet a great noise it makes

as it rattles – like  bones –

The leaves on dry skeleton trees.

A veil of vapor rises

From a bog not far away,

Like a specter drifting skyward,

Aloft on nightly haunts.

Underfoot the leaves crunch,

Arid and bleached,

Like the dry, taut skin

of Rigor Mortis.

 

Alone in the sky flies a

Bone White Moon,

Peering out from behind

Passing shrouds.

Silent, and steadfast,

As The Reaper.

———————–

photo-supervisor

Photo Supervisor

Happy Halloween!

 

Seek peace,

 

Paz

Life and Death and Pain and Compassion in My Cosmos

Sasha In The Wonder Woods

The Wonder Woods beckoned on this perfect September day, and Sasha and I agreed we should be in them.

A lovely walk ensued, up Nishan’s Road, through the Avenue of The Pines, east past the hilltop camp site, past Chuy’s Trail, and down to The Wonder Woods. Heading west on the home leg, I turned onto Thursday Trail, camera in hand, ready to try to capture the soul of this place. To try in vain to produce a two-dimensional image that will in some measure do justice to the overwhelming peacefulness and beauty of Nature’s World.

 

Not ten steps down Thursday Trail, I spotted a chipmunk, motionless, in the center of the footpath. If you spend much time outdoors, particularly wild places, it’s not unusual to approach an animal so quickly and silently that the napping or distracted creature is suddenly aware of your presence. I watched a squirrel a good long time one day afield, twenty feet in the air, napping. His head rested on folded forelegs, back legs dangling from the branch the way children hang their feet in a pool. I watched a long while wondering if the squirrel was not in fact dead. Never did know. An hour later, the animal hadn’t moved. Next day, of course, was gone. Did he awaken and return to his life, or did his corpse fall to the ground?

More than once I’ve found a dead mouse or mole, lying dead in the grass along a trail. I’ve wondered how they died, and why here? Things need to die on a daily basis, and must fall somewhere. I usually presumed it was a matter of time before a scavenger would come along. A recycling in Nature’s Way.

I returned my focus to the still chipmunk. Rustling and movement did not disturb it. It was not asleep. I pondered about that which may have befallen him. I mindlessly nudged the tiny animal with the toe of a shoe. The chipmunk rolled over a bit, and that’s when I discovered the cause of death. I’ve seen (and smelled) a lot of dead things in my time, but this was a first. The chipmunk’s abdomen was unusually distorted, and enlarged several times normal size.

The Still Chipmunk

At its softest underside, below the intestines, parasitic worms could be seen, their heads emerging from the white fur-covered flesh. This parasite grows to larval stage inside the host, then bores its way through the wall of flesh and to the outside world, to begin the cycle anew. This was a bit shocking and grotesque. The sudden, unexpected discovery, a phenomenon hitherto unwitnessed, and taking place at the expense of this adorable little rodent, whose species I like and admire.

Then the animal moved. Just a short stroke of two paws, barely a movement, followed again by stillness. Knowing what I do of these things and having an appreciation for the natural order, I understood that this must have been a painful course for this little mammal. The parasites literally eating the host alive as they grow and break out. Life and death in the same stroke.

I then entered into a dilemma, a personal conflict. I was almost immediately compelled to kill the chipmunk, to “euthanize” it, to end its suffering. As half of my mind raced through potential actions to dispatch the animal, the other half of my brain was arguing that I must not interfere. There were a number of tenets to prevent me from interfering with this natural occurrence.

First, there is the Armchair Zen Universalism, which regards all things in the universe to be natural and of equal significance. These things don’t always align with the over-thought and over-emotional human animals. The parasite worms have as much right to their natural course as anything else. Secondly, as a naturalist, photographer and sportsman, it’s a big no-no to interfere with whatever you are witnessing. I’m certain I don’t have the mettle or the stomach of the best wildlife photographers and cinematographers, who can cleave to this rule. Even as they watch a fox snatch a gosling from terrified parents, or see a baby gazelle grabbed by a crocodile, bleating and flailing as its mother watches helplessly, silence falling as the gazelle is dragged to its drowning.

The gazelles and geese of this world are cute and soft and sweet in those Disney-reinforced human perceptions. Still the fox and the crocodile and flesh-eating parasites have the same place in the cosmos as geese and gazelles, chipmunks, and me.

“Killing the chipmunk is judgement” I say to myself. “That would be deciding the chipmunk is more worthy than the worm.” What I feel is “Save the warm fuzzy mammal from suffering!”. What I can read is the rule: “DO NOT INTERFERE”.

I walk away conflicted, nearly sick to my stomach over the dichotomy of emotions. After the walk, I could not stop thinking of the chipmunk, in pain and dying, alone in the grass. As I started mowing I reassured myself that it is the natural order of things, and a scavenger has probably made a meal of the rodent, worms included. I could not let go of the obsession, the compulsion. As I mowed the Wonder Woods Trail, I turned into Thursday Trail, sure the animal would be gone.

It was not.

Surely its suffering must be over, surely it must be dead by now.

It was not.

I spent quite a few minutes determining it was not. At first I thought what I’d mistaken for respiration was simply the undulating worms moving beneath and with the animal. As I watched, hopes were dashed as I discerned a rhythm of shallow breaths.

“That’s enough!” my human brain said. This thing doesn’t need to remain alive. The parasites have matured and odds are they would not be harmed. I thought, even looked around a bit, for a rock and a sturdy limb to crush its skull. Another thought, perhaps drive over it with the mower. But that wouldn’t guarantee a kill and would also destroy the worms. I thought of returning to the house and fetching a twenty-two rifle to dispatch the thing.

I stopped and took a deep breath of zen. “Let the cosmos handle it.” I said aloud. I can’t understand everything that goes on in the cosmos. I left the tiny microcosm, that finite piece of the universe where this natural order will be left to itself. I could not shake the scenario from my head or heart, and it’s three days hence now.

The Circle

The same day, I talked to my neighbor, Betsy. Last week, the Cosmos and natural order came to call on her. As she reached down into some vegetation in her landscaping, a mink leaped up and bit her, sinking its teeth into the soft web of flesh between the thumb and forefinger. Panicked, the animal would not let go. Betsy ran next door to Tom & Lynn’s, banging on the door, bloody, yelling “Help! Help!”.

A minor chaos ensued, Tom donned gloves and grabbed tools. Nothing would get the mink to release its grip, and in fact it adjusted and re-sank its teeth for a firmer hold. Finally, Tom wedged its jaws apart with a screwdriver, and ultimately dispatched the animal with a hammer blow. Now, a week later, Betsy shows me the teeth marks in her hand, relates to me the news that the animal was tested, and was not rabid. We speculated as to why, then, the mink would not loose its hold and run away.

Betsy brought my cosmic dilemma full circle. After being attacked by a wild animal, bitten, in pain, bearing fear of rabies. After a chaotic story of noisy panic, trying to pry the animal off of her.

“It had to be tested for rabies,” Betsy concluded. “Still, I felt bad that we had to kill it.”

Southbound

Seek peace,

And balance of life and death and pain and compassion, here in this wondrous cosmos.

 

Paz

 

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