Treading lightly the path to enlightenment.

Posts tagged ‘perseverance’

Empty Nest

Bald Eagle

Decorah North is the given name of this eagles’ nest and the streaming nest camera I’ve been watching since early spring. As snow and freezing rain fell on Mother and Father eagle, two eggs were sheltered deep in the nest, and guarded always by one or the other. Explore.org and The Raptor Resource Project supplies the cameras, and mans them from time to time to zoom in or pan the treetops.

The streaming site would remain open on my computer at work. Folks arriving in the morning and passing my desk were greeted with the view. The computer window minimized during the day (in case I needed to actually work), the sound would come to us from Decorah, Iowa. This was fun in the shop, when someone would look all around trying to locate the source of birdsongs, raindrops, wind, and the occasional chainsaw. As I worked, it often provided a comforting backdrop to my day. I listened, checking the video from time to time, as the sound of chickadees and jays welcomed the songs of robins and the arrival of red-winged blackbirds.

Finally, somewhere at the end of March or early April, the first of two eggs hatched. Within two days, the second egg hatched. A day later, the second chick was discovered in the morning to be lifeless. Who can know the reasons why? Such a delicate and helpless stage of their lives. One false move will do them in. A snowy night, just too cold to survive, perhaps. Nature is not scripted.

We mourn the passing, yet are transfixed by the only child, designated DN9. Each day, I looked in on the little family. Eagle parents share equally in the duties. He would sit the nest while she went to hunt and eat, and vice versa. They would bring fresh trout and small mammals, tear pieces off and patiently feed them bit by bit to their charge. With the computer window minimized, I could tell when the lunch delivery arrived by the screeching of Junior, growing quickly and eager to be fed.

I watched the nearly-naked fur ball immobilized by his out sized feet. At one point I began to wonder if he wasn’t deformed, unable to walk at four or five weeks of age. Then I read that their clownish feet are much too big for newborns, and it was normal to take a while to grow into them. I was delighted when DN9 took his first plodding, stumbling steps. It was almost like seeing a child at that same remarkable, fascinating stage of development. Weeks passed, and “Superchicken”, as I’ve nicknamed him, continued to grow from a fuzzy blob into a real bird. Feathers grew larger and more plentiful, and DN9 hopped and reached right in for the scraps of fish and meat offered.

This past week or two, along came the mayflies. Swarms clouded the nest, and poor little DN9 could only scratch with his giant foot, and shake his head constantly in self-defense. I was wishing for him, no doubt speaking aloud to the computer screen, that his day of fledging and flight would be soon. He’s a big bird now, probably as big as a chicken. He’s started “branching”. Leaving the nest to walk out on its supporting limbs, stretching and testing newly-formed wings. This morning, there he sat, harassed by the mayflies in the nest. It looked maddening, and I again wished the freedom of flight for him. “You’ll see,” I encouraged, “you can fly away from these bugs. Take a nice bath in the creek.”

Twenty minutes later, I walked past my desk and saw the nest, empty.

Such a strange feeling that evoked. Here this nest, family and particularly “Superchicken” DN9 have been part of my daily life for several months. Now, in an instant, fledging season ends at Decorah North. I miss him already, yet in my heart I am simultaneously overjoyed. This was the goal! This is the whole purpose of what’s happening. I’m reminded of the sort of hippie, sort of corny thing about “If you love something, let it go.” 

I rewound the video to the time he was last seen. I watched as he stepped out, branching, onto a large limb that supported the nest. He looked down. He looked outward. He was getting ready. He took another step onto a flimsier branch, and in his inexperience, lost grip with his newly-acquired talons. One flip of a wing, and he dropped out of sight. So it was not the glorious Hollywood-style leap into the crisp air, broad wings soaring above the open field. The folks at the Raptor Resource Project started scanning with the cameras, up and down, all around the base of the nest tree, out into the field adjacent, filled with dairy cows and home to a rushing stream during spring melt. No sign of the little guy.

I had every confidence in DN9’s parents. Certainly all this is normal in the context of nature. He’ll be fine. I checked the other nest cam in the area. Decorah, was fortunate to have three big, healthy fledglings. Wouldn’t you know? That nest was empty, too. And this brought me some comfort. Being about the same age, this meant DN9 was old enough to make that big leap, that first giant step, to leave the nest. Had this been a sparrow or robin, a grackle or starling, I would have worried for its survival, yet unable to fully fly, making short hops and bursts of uncoordinated flight. As big as a crow already, and with two adult bald eagles keeping tabs on the youngster, threats would be few.

By afternoon, the camera operator for the Raptor Resource Project had located DN9 in the open field between the nest tree and the creek! He was on the ground, standing, and remaining still. The curious dairy cows would stop and take a second look as they ambled by. “What’s this big bird doing here on the ground? Just sitting here staring at us?” A short time later I saw the camera pointed up into a nearby tree, where one of the parents perched, keeping an eye on junior.

Immersion in nature and close association with her offspring bears many wonderful gifts. Aside from the joy of life itself, and seeing beautiful things, a clearer perspective of real life in the real world may be had. I would be inclined to disagree with you if you claimed animals did not share the breadth, depth and range of emotions accredited to that most highly developed species, humans.

Most don’t have a brow to furrow with worry, nor lips to part in smiles or turn down in frowns. No eyebrows to raise in fear or consternation. No tear ducts to produce evidence of great sadness or supreme joy.

But aren’t eagles and robins and starlings and weasels and possums and field mice and beavers still parents? Clearly they are driven to protect and nurture their offspring until they can venture out to lives of their own. Will you tell me the eagles were not saddened or heartbroken or disappointed at the loss of their own issue? Would you expect me to believe they were not startled or scared or worried when the little one fell from its perch to the Earth below? An Earth with predators; coyotes, dogs, bobcats.

Yet there is a balance in the natural world. These fragile things live daily with apprehension and fear. Starvation, predation, drought and hurricanes. Falling from a nest just a week too early. Still, it seems, their lives are not ruled by emotions, fueled and driven by feelings as their primary motivation. That would be humans. Every act a reaction to emotion. Joy, sadness, pride, regret, love, hatred, jealousy, envy, admiration, jubilation. Human hearts fling their emotions in every direction like sailors in the tempest. Nature takes a more centered and humble view. What seems the greatest of emotional extremes for humans are but the limits of the pendulum daily for so many beings.

The next day, DN9 was nowhere to be seen. The camera pilot (no doubt driven by emotions, including scientific curiosity), panned and zoomed the terrain repeatedly. This is the simple rule in nature. We do the best we can, and keep our hopes high for the best outcomes. The rest is really out of our control. And now I, too, swing through the pendulum’s arc.

I am sad that DN10 died before his second day in life, and I am overjoyed that DN9 prospered. I feel a sense of loss, loneliness, as I gaze upon the empty nest, and simultaneously I trust that DN9 has more than a sporting chance, and two doting parents. I feel compassion and sympathy for the eagle parents. The work and worry of it all. To keep those babies warm and safe and fed in the nest as long as necessary, and no longer. To flood every waking and sleeping minute with a vigilance worthy of a palace guard. To return one day to an empty nest, and, with just a little melancholy perhaps, celebrate this grand miracle. There is a powerful, silent beauty to the empty nest.

Hence we are kindred. Akin to the eagle and robin, the badger and rat, the polar bear and skunk, I, too, look proudly ( and not without a little twinge of nostalgia) on the silent beauty, the power, and the glory of an empty nest of my own.

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

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

Farewell 2017

Depth of Winter

Outside there was that predawn kind of clarity, where the momentum of living has not quite captured the day. The air was not filled with conversation or thought bubbles or laughter or sidelong glances. Everyone was sleeping. All of their ideas and hopes and hidden agendas entangled in the Dream World, leaving this world clear and crisp and cold as a bottle of milk in the fridge. 

 -Reif Larson

Remind me why we do this

 

December 30 First

 

Remnants

All around lie the remnants of summer and fall.

These dry brown grasses, the tall and the small.

On Thursday Trail

Each conifer stretches, the low and the high,

Each stretches in vain its limbs to the sky.

Winter Sun

The sun swings low in its arc, non-chalant,

Neglecting her Earthbound petits-enfants.

Tug Hill snow

Tug Hill Snow

The Snow comes to slumber, and lumber around

Packing the Earth to hard, frozen ground.

Snow Devils

Smoke from chimneys dances and twirls, 

Having never seen the Summer World.

Fire ring

I’ll shutter the windows, put logs on the fire,

And patiently wait for the year to expire.

Sharon Center Sunset

As into the pink night sky sets the sun,

Another year’s ended, as another’s begun.

 

Best of fortune to all in the new (paper) year.

 

Seek peace,

 

Paz

Welcome the New Year!

Solstice Sun

A circle is one of the most common shapes in our Great Cosmos (silica-based crystal chain structures right behind), and it is today our New Circle begins. In my view, today begins the new year. As our almost-perfect circle planet revolves around its perfect-circle sun in a far-from-perfect ellipse of an orbit, the Winter Solstice marks the top of the curve. Now days begin to lengthen incrementally for the next six moons until we reach the opposite end of our rolling year, and the longest day of Summer Solstice.

This marks a point on my journey. Like returning to home port, or passing the same old oak on a favorite trail. It is an ending and beginning in a single stroke. It is a benchmark, a touchstone, a point along a very long line when I make a hash mark as I hurtle past. There’s a slight thrill seeing the 57 past hash marks, and a certain excitement as I reach out, take a swing, and hang on for another orbit, another grand circle in the concentric and overlapping circles that make up the life of an old Armchair Zen master.

Not only is the New Year commenced, but also the “official” season of winter. Life in a Northern Town takes winter in stride. Not only passively, but in tangible and active ways. The Yankee winter is an integral part of our lives. It serves a great purpose for those of us that will undertake the understanding of it. It’s a trial and a test and a testament to our spirits. Not just surviving winter, bit thriving within and through it.

Each year, our Earth sort of throws down a gauntlet. Each year, we rise to the challenge and pick it up. It’s not all about active young people oblivious to cold and snow, skiing the High Peaks and snowmobiling 27 miles up the frozen Sacandaga Lake. It’s about the everyday and the mundane. Firing furnaces, sealing up drafts, shoveling the steps. Getting out the “Let It Snow” box filled with hats and gloves and scarves and mittens. It’s about getting to work when it’s 18 degrees and there’s four inches of snow on the road and it’s forecast to fall all day. It’s about walking the dog and fetching the mail from the box, checking the car’s oil and unloading the wood pellets while frigid air tries to sneak in around your collar, while your fingers grow numb with cold.

And when winter is done, there’s more reward than the flowers of spring and the return of American Robins. Even for those that may be unaware, surviving and thriving through a Yankee winter reminds us of just how strong we are. A reminder that gives us the strength to carry on for another year, another wonder-filled lap around our atomic anchor.

I have a covenant with winter. A vow to honor and cherish and forsake all other seasons when she comes to call, all gleaming and silver. I welcome and embrace her with open arms. Revere her. Laud her beauty. In return, she brings me gifts.

A quadrillion snowflakes. Vast tracts of ice-covered ponds and lakes.

Glazed hoarfrost dawns and golden ice-ringed sunsets.

Birds, the color of summer flowers, blue and red, black and white and yellow.

Like the migrations of fall or tulips of spring, she returns faithfully each year to me. She covers me with her downy quilt and beckons me to slumber.

Yet within each hour are wonders, joys and beauties to behold. Adventures to seek as only Dear Winter can oblige.

She calls me forth from my den, to drink it all in.

Before it is gone.

 

Happy New Year, and Merry Christmas to those that observe it.

May the peace of the Cosmos find you and keep you throughout the year.

 

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

Teachers

 

Sumac Sunrise

Trees

Trees are my Teachers.

They have no choice in their birth, as do I.

Tree cannot move nearer to water, to a spot with better sun.

Tree cannot migrate south for the winter, or move over to give another crown some space.

Tree stands and grows mightily in the very spot where it was born.

Year in and year out, Tree is the best it can be, right where it is.

Tree is at peace with this.

Hello Down There!

Fish

Fish are my Teachers.

Trapped beneath the waters in their own beautiful world, they can never witness my own.

Most are trapped also in some impoundment. A lake, a pond. They can go nowhere.

If the water is low, the PH too high, Fish toughs it out.

Unable to get out and walk, or take to the air, Fish enjoys the beauty of his own world, and makes the best of what is before him.

In fact, he may revel in the fact that most of us will never see his world from his perspective.

Fish is at peace with this.

Sparrow Boy

Birds

Birds are my Teachers.

Each sings his own song. Not because he has an opinion, but because he has a song to sing.

Bird ignores critics and all others, and sings mightily as best he knows how, for the love of singing.

Bird will often return to the same nest site year after year.

Bird flies. Bird could fly anywhere, yet stays right here and makes a home.

Comfort and familiarity, Bird declares “This is my home, and I will sing proudly of it.”

Bird is at peace with this.

Life’s a Piece of Cake

Children

Children are my Teachers.

With children, everything old is new again.

Children love boldly. Plant wet kisses right on your lips.

Stretch tiny arms around my neck and cling mightily.

Children laugh readily. When they see something funny.

When you tickle them. When they feel like laughing.

Children cry at the drop of a hat. Hearts are tender organs, after all.

As we age and harden our hearts against the cruel world, we reserve crying for only the “most important” occasions.

Children cry when they feel like crying, and just as quickly, they recover.

Children are at peace with this.

 

Doe & Fawn

And the circle continues.

 

Seek Peace,

 

Paz

 

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