When nature awakens in late March or early April, sap starts flowing in the trees and ice changes to water marking the end of hibernation. This is the grand opening of the wetlands and the pilgrimage to the vernal pools as David M. Carroll writes in his “Swampwalker’s Journal: a Wetlands Year.” A vernal pool is a body of water which fills up in autumn and winter and is swollen in the spring but often dries up completely by the end of the summer. Carroll describes vernal pools so beautifully: “It is at snowmelt and ice-out, the last sleets, first rains, and the earliest warming breaths of spring that they beckon wood frogs, salamanders, and spring peepers from surrounding upland woods, where they have passed the winter in rotted-out trees roots [a reason not to ‘clean up’ the woods], under layers of bark and litter, in small mammal tunnels and other hibernacula in the earth.” The melting snow heralds the march of the amphibians. “Vernal pool habitats hold a galaxy of small things that come to life the instant ice and snow turn back into water.”
Carroll walks the swamps, as the title of his book suggests, in search of mating salamanders and spotted turtles, bogs, fens and all wetland flora and fauna. He tells us that there must be a certain collusion of events– several warm days in a row followed by a darkest of nights with temperatures ideally in the mid-50s with rain preferably two nights in a row. And then the magical migration begins. The salamanders begin their “annual pilgrimage” to the vernal pond to mate.
My husband and I are lucky enough to have a vernal pond on the property next door to us and when Spring comes the sound at night from that pond makes us feel as if we are camping out next to a vast wetland. The music of the spring peepers plays through the night throughout the house, often starting overeagerly in the late afternoon. This manic symphony thrills us every year. It is the first sign of Spring for us. The quality of joyousness and the affirmation of life gladdens our souls. Going to sleep with that sound makes us remember what we so often forget, to give thanks to our Creator for his magnificent creatures.
Inspired by Carroll, one year we awaited the first dark, rainy warm night after a succession of warm days. In our rain gear, armed with flashlights we set out around 11PM to look for the march of the salamanders. We walked to the nearby pond. Nothing. We walked quite aways down a nearby dirt road that has run off but is not quite a vernal pond. We shone the flashlight this way and that. Nothing. We finally headed home disappointed and dejected and my husband started towards the front door when I yet out a yelp. There in the doorway was a 6 inch spotted salamander in all its glory! We never found the march of the salamanders but we were greeted by one of these fantastic amphibians right at our front door!
This story, however, does not have a happy ending. In his epilogue to the “Swampwalker’s Journal,” David Carroll explains why it took him more than 7 years to complete this book. He writes that he became involved in saving some of the wetlands in his book and says sadly nearly all of his interventions have or will become “losing battles.” He describes the plight of the wetlands, bogs and fens as a “landscape of loss.” And he scorns our human selfishness as he writes how it “reveals explicitly the extent to which we think of ourselves as owning all living things, along with the very earth, air, and water in which they live, as if we possessed some divinely mandated dominion over all creation.” He warns: “As we will learn in time none of this belongs to us.” I read these words, knowing them to be true and I think of the soon-to-be-extinct bog turtle and other creatures with the same possible fate. I think of the spotted salamander who came to our door, as did Shelley, the snapping turtle who returns to our drive way every year to lay her eggs and I think of the spring peepers whose joyous song heralds spring and I fear for their future.
When the Snows Come
My husband and I sit in our living room with all the little still-intact dairy barn windows showing flakes falling as if we are on ship at sea in a snowfall. Except for the high ceiling the living room has the feeling of a ship cabin, our converted dairy barn, and I think it is most beautiful when the snow is falling.
The glass doors at the pentagon of the far end of the barn gives us perfect view of the suet bird feeder. We only feed the birds suet in winter because in summer a fat raccoon comes and eats the whole suet cake in one sitting. The bird feeder in winter is our television. We watch male cardinals, bright red in the stark white, feed and contend with the beautiful, bullying blue jays. And the more modest and gentle little juncos and sparrows touch our hearts with their humility.
One winter, when the snow had covered the ground for a month or so and turned to solid ice we watched horrified as squirrels clawed at the feeder and fought with one another for a chance to feed making their shrill cries of territoriality. That hasn’t happened since and we think the ground was too frozen for them to retrieve the nuts and such that they buried in the fall and they were fighting off starvation.
Waking up in the morning there is no need for a weather report as we see the snow piled high on the surrounding trees and we see the sky through the second story doorway in the barn where they used to bring hay inside, now a cathedral window in our bedroom. The thermometer in the former hay loft tells us how cold it is though we can feel how chill the air is. It is great to wake up to see the squirrels running along the limbs of the trees, cleaning off the heavy snow. They seem friskiest just aftter a snowfall.
And if we are lucky and the snow is deep enough we get out our snow shoes and climb up the hill behind our little barn to what we were once told was a Christian Indian burial ground. There are no markers left but the spot has the air of the sacred and it affords a small view of the Catskills in winter. High on the hill overlooking the valley, it seems a perfect place for a burial ground. The snowfall makes it easier to walk the hill which in the summer is too full of saplings and underbrush to be able to walk the “meadow” as we call it. We only get it brush hog mowed once a year.
Our property does not include the entire meadow but on our half of the meadow there is a squat fir tree there which provides a great shelter for deer in a storm and the deer love the meadow. There are a few blown over trees. And as we snow shoe we see all kinds of animal tracks which we attempt to identify. And animal shelters from the harsh elements.
Like many barns, ours was built near the road so we do get some traffic noise. But in the meadow we are far removed from the road and its bustle. And when it snows, it is so beautiful in the quiet, looking at the animal tracks and feeling the spirits in the graveyard. Our secret little piece of Paradise. And to stand there in the silence, in the virgin white, and see the abstract patterns of the snow on the surrounding hundreds of trees is divine.
Welcome to samples of my writing and art work showcasing “Eye-locks and Other Fearsome Things.” “Eye-locks” is a Bipolar/Asperger’s memoir in narrative form that describes the triumph of love over mental illness.
It is before dawn on a moonlit night. The moon has swept the trees and grass in silver. I await the sun. The moon wakes me to whisper about the silent beauty of the predawn hours. The yard is white magic and I imagine a monarch butterfly now sleeping, awaken to find a turtle to drink its tears. Monarch butterflies drink turtle tears. Why are the turtles crying? They cry for the ailing earth. They cry for those who suffer. They cry for the dying. They cry for those striving to become one with all. They cry for the sap in the trees flowing. They cry for the animals who are constantly on guard for their lives. They cry for the bird egg which will not ever hatch. They cry for the dying stars in an ever expanding universe. They cry for the unawareness of the high and mighty. Turtle tears are like diamonds sparkling in candlelight. like dew drops on a drooping Lily of the Valley. Come now to drink my tears, dear Monarch. Your beauty gladdens my heart. Your heart drops manna from the heavens into my soul. Come now, dear Monarch. Come lick the dew drops in my eyes.
is my cathedral
A very diverse congregation…
to snails and turtles
Deer sometimes come round
Birds of every hue
All that’s missing is you
but you worship your own way
doing charity every day
more than I can say
Ode to a One-Eyed Dog
You open our eyes to the Infinite
with your soft-brown, one-eyed stare,
your gentle, pink-tongued kisses
and your deep, dark, velvet ways.
You open our hearts to Eternal Love,
joining in our displays of affection,
cringing at discord in dire dejection,
Oh, Love-Dog with a failing heart!
You work your love-magic on all you meet
with a willful wag of your toy-like tail
Soothing us in sorrow and defeat
with the soulful “ear” of your only eye.
In your own pain, you comforted us.
Losing Dad, you licked Mom’s tears.
When Mom died you brought us back
from the shrieking world of grief and fears.
And you are getting old, as I lie sick in bed,
my nose nuzzling your greying head,
inhaling your sweet doggie scent,
I feel the fragile flutter of your tender heart.
Lulled by the hum of your delectable delight,
warmed by your love, touched by your joy,
filled with awe at each breath you take,
I see in you God’s mystery of life.
It is before dawn on a moonlit night. The moon has swept the trees and grass in silver. I await the sun. The moon woke me to whisper about the silent beauty of the predawn hours. The yard is white magic and I imagine a monarch butterfly now sleeping, awaken to find a turtle so it can drink its tears. Monarch butterflies drink turtle tears. Why are the turtles crying? They cry for the ailing earth. They cry for those who suffer. They cry for the dying. They cry for those striving to become one with all. They cry for the sap in the trees flowing. They cry for the animals who are constantly on guard for their lives. They cry for the bird egg which will not ever hatch. They cry for the dying stars in an ever expanding universe. They cry for the unawareness of the high and mighty. Turtle tears are like diamonds sparkling in candlelight, like rain drops on a drooping Lily of the Valley. Come now to drink my tears, dear Monarch. Your beauty gladdens my heart. Your heart drops manna from the heavens into my soul. Come now, dear Monarch. Come lick the dew drops in my eyes.
New Life, Old Love
each passing day
pale green regalia
not the deep green
of Summer when the
change in color
is so gradual
as to be imperceptible
nor the fleeting riot
of color of Fall
no, in Spring,
slight light green
appears by the moment
right before my slow eyes
as I discern
shadows in the woods
a flash of white tail
deer fleet of foot
fly through the brush
dancing to the deep trill
of the wood frogs and
the echoing, haunted cries
of pileated woodpeckers
in the sudden density
of the fast-growing woods
inside the booming forest
whilst where I sit
at the edge of wood
bumble bees hum
and magically lift off
the teaming ground
and fly to the sky
where birds sing to mates
sweet songs of desire
in a crescendo of new life
as you have sung to me
for nearly thirty years
in an ever-changing
whilst a breeze caresses
a newborn leaf
that tingles to its touch
as I thrill so very much
to the searching clasp
of your hand in mine
(As yet another killer, this time on the campus of Santa Barbara, California, is identified as possibly having Asperger’s syndrome, I, as a Bipolar Aspie, offer this poem written to my Aspie husband for May 14, 2014, on the occasion of our 25th wedding anniversary, to show that not all people with Asperger’s reach for a gun and are violent.)
“Talk to Me!”
What I loved about this horse is that he looks as if he is about to say, “Tell me all about it!” Actually he is a rescue that became a therapy horse at Lucky Orphans Horse Rescue in Millbrook, New York. He gives handicapped children rides and companionship so valuable to them. Like so many animals, he gives so much for mere maintenance in return. An exceptional soul.
Denizens of the Deep
The marsh is melting
all the turtles in their hibernacula
deep down under the melting ice
will soon emerge
and the marsh will sing
the chorus of the Spring Peeper
and the salamanders will emerge
with the urge to murge
and joy and the life force
will fill the air
and lift the fog
enveloping my soul.
For the Love of a Horse
Oh to be one with you,
White-marked Third Eye,
to mount you
and ride you into forever
to nuzzle my nose
in your silky mane
to smell your hot breath
upon my face
and feel your tongue
upon my cheek
to smell the sweetness
of your leavings
hear your hoofs
against the road
and your snorts
as you run
my love for you
is from a distance
we danced together
me out of depression
and into bliss
oh how I miss
those magic moments
when we were one.
The house that we think of as “our” house does not belong to us. Not because we are still paying the mortgage on it. Not because it, like so many others, is in foreclosure. No, though it is still “our” house, we are just renters.
This becomes evident one morning while sitting in a moment of calm before the day has begun, watching the bird feeder which my husband is lovingly filling. He has dumped out the seeds too big to fit through the wire mesh of the feeder. About 10 little birds, sparrows and juncos and sometimes a dashing male cardinal, are feeding on the seeds on the leaf-covered ground. They are not scared off by the lone squirrel who comes to eat the peanuts from the mix. Larger birds flock to the now-full feeder. The largest birds, too big to land on the feeder, sometime take over the small bird territory, eating seeds on the ground.
Rain is falling as we prepare to go to work, cleaning up the kitchen and locking up the house. The birds fly around in my mind. So vulnerable they seem yet so brave, so tiny yet enormous in their freedom to take to the air. I want to hold them in my hand and stroke their soft, downy feathers, give them love. But truth is, this is purely a selfish wish on my part for they don’t need my love. They don’t really even need the bird seed my husband religiously puts in the feeder. There are bushes out back with berries which they love. It is we who need them, to make us feel happy, to make us feel loving, to make us feel alive and connected to something larger than ourselves.
As we pull out of the driveway I take another lingering look at the birds in the brightening light. And then it hits me. They get to stay there all day as we drive off through the rain to our respective jobs in the cement jungle of a nearby city. We drive past horses, grazing in a neighboring meadow. They get to stay home, too. Often I make an effort to remember the birds and the squirrels and the horses to bring calm to a fraught work day. Yet I usually get so caught up in my frenetic, little life that I forget to think of them. Or if I manage to conjure them up, the image of them in my mind is thin, pale and lacking in substance.
I imagine the animals laughing at us as we have to drive off to go to work. Our house belongs to THEM. Sometimes they even invade our living quarters. When we first bought the house, it had 50 or so little brown bats in the attic who would occasionally fly around the bedroom at night. One year we had a pair of squirrels. We even had the company of a milk snake one afternoon. And every fall as the weather turns frigid, the field mice run in.
A little more thought on the subject reveals to me that in actuality we own nothing. Not our house, our spouse, our children, our pets, nor even the body we inhabit. All of these things are on loan to us, rented to us if you will, by the Maker of the sun and the moon and the stars. Such a wealth of beauteous bounty is there for us, ours to enjoy for the mere act of attention. The trees, the summer breeze, the blanket of snow in winter, the flowers of summer, the butterflies, the deer who eat our lilies, the possums and ground-hogs, the ever-changing species of birds, the occasional coyote and the thousands, if not millions, of insects underfoot in a terrestrial universe. And the universe above our heads with the planets, the sun, the moon and its trillions, gazillions of stars and whispers of other universes beyond what we can see. And yet we are so caught up in the dramas of our mundane lives that we fail to duly honor the ever-present gifts except in periodic snatches, when we turn our attention outside ourselves and our little lives. We may pay a sum to rent a piece of the earth but that piece contains a seemingly infinite multitude of gifts given just for the taking. Or rather, I should say, for the renting.
It is a summer night, late in August. September and autumn are knocking at the door. The day was hot– the last gasp of a 3H summer day. And then, at night, come the thunderstorms. Downpours of rain hit hot asphalt and steam rises in the moonlit roads. The air cools down by 10, maybe 15 degrees.
We are going out to pick up a pizza for dinner and we hit the road in the middle of what must be called “Frog Frenzy.” Frogs are everywhere, every kind and every size. Hopping here and there. We drive in a hopscotch pattern to avoid running them over. We are hoping no one is watching our car stop and start and swerve left and right. The frogs look silvery in the headlights. Perhaps it is the last mating call of the season. Perhaps the frogs know something we don’t– perhaps this is the last warm day and thunderstorm of a dying summer.
There are long-legged frogs leaping across the road, teeny frogs skimming the asphalt, and giant frogs that cross the road in two to three jumps. Mating can be the only incentive for this frenzy of activity. Driven by desire, they are mating without concern for their welfare. More likely they are not aware of the danger that lurks in the road. Like all animals, we assume frogs live in the present moment, perhaps as we humans do in our twenties, driven by biology to seek a mate in a frantic orgy of activity.
My husband and I on our pizza run, which is no run but a crawl, are uplifted by this affirmation of life. We, who in our 20s, did not think we could die, are afraid of taking what would seem like even moderate risks now. We take delight in the frenetic frog activity as we get our pizza.
But it is a different landscape we drive through on the way home only a quarter of an hour later. The frogs are gone– completely vanished having hopped to wherever they were seeking to go. We only see some frogs who did not make it. A large truck pulled out from the road just as we turned in. Not the type to play hopscotch while driving.
We feel privileged to have witnessed this “Frog Frenzy,” this affirmation of life– this ten minute window of activity that shut down as abruptly as it opened. But the next morning, walking the road, we see mangled frogs everywhere. We can’t blame the one truck we saw for this massacre.
This is not an isolated incident. In the Summer 2008 Defenders, the Conservation Magazine of Defenders of Wildlife, a study by Purdue University is cited in which the number of road kill in a suburb of Indiana were counted over a 17 month period. The number was an astounding 10,500 dead animals and 95 percent of those were frogs and other amphibians. Many of the other amphibians were eastern tiger salamanders making their way to breeding grounds to lay 500 to 1,200 eggs. Obviously this could affect future populations. Sy Montgomery, in her “The Wild Out Your Window: Exploring Nature Near at Hand,” tells us that during the “salamander rains,” as she calls them, so many salamanders are killed by cars, that in Amherst they built special tunnels so the salamanders would be safe from the road, and in Lenox and Framingham they close the roads during the migration. Are a few towns in Massachusetts the only enlightened guardians of this amphibian ritual? Why are there not more precautions taken on our roads all across the country’s wetlands? Why aren’t the fading wetlands being preserved with the reverence they deserve as they serve earth?
We don’t know how long the “Frog Frenzy” lasted but, judging from the number of bodies in the road the next day, we caught only the tail end of it. The unlucky ones, who did not make it, lie in waiting for crows and other carrion-eating birds to come feast in this other, inevitable aspect of nature, the dead frog banquet. This time our hearts are heavy. We mourn the frogs who jumped so wildly to their death in their state of excitation. The “Night of the Frogs– just another sampling of man’s abject inhumanity to those he deems inferior, and, with whom he shares this mystery called “earth.”
(Click http://www.independentauthornetwork.com/ellen-stockdale-wolfe.html for information on, and to purchase my Bipolar/Asperger’s memoir.)
Animal’s “Eternal Treblinka”
Whales are highly intelligent sentient creatures and they do care about humans. Humans who have saved whales caught in fishing nets have remarked on the displays of gratitude whales have shown in response to being saved. Watch the following 2 minute video to see that innocent caring in action of whales for humans.
Meantime man hunts whales in one of the most cruelest of all animal hunts. Watch this 2 minute video to see how much we care about whales who, bear in mind, have larger minds than ours and obviously larger hearts. The reality of the kill is much more gruesome and hideous than this video portrays. But this is bad enough.
Famous author, Issac Bashevis Singer wrote about the cruelty of man against animal. In an epigraph to a character he had written about who had a relationship with a mouse, this is what Singer wrote: “In his thoughts, Herman spoke a eulogy for the mouse who had shared a portion of her life with him and who, because of him, had left this earth. “What do they know–all these scholars, all these philosophers, all the leaders of the world–about such as you? They have convinced themselves that man, the worst transgressor of all the species, is the crown of creation. All other creatures were created merely to provide him with food, pelts, to be tormented, exterminated. In relation to them, all people are Nazis; for the animals it is an eternal Treblinka.
–Isaac Bashevis Singer, “The Letter Writer”
And listen to the words of the great Dalai Lama on animal cruelty…
“Life is as dear to a mute creature as it is to man. Just as one wants happiness and fears pain, just as one wants to live and not die, so do other creatures.
–The Dalai Lama
Last week my husband called me from the back yard. “Come quick, come see what I found.” I ran to the back door where he was, holding out his arm, and there in his hand sat a teeny green frog, about the size of a thumbnail. I oooed and aahhed over it and thanked him for calling me. The frog had jumped onto his arm while my husband was unrolling the garden hose, its temporary home. “How wonderful!” I said. And then I thought some more about it and I realized I was jealous. Jealous of the fact the frog had jumped on my husband’s arm and not mine. “Well, he deserves the frog more than I do,” I found myself thinking, as if any of us deserve such things.
Today I began to think more about this. I remembered when we had first moved in. My husband was at work and I saw a mound in the grass moving out the back door window. Upon closer examination I found to my utter delight it was a box turtle. This time it was my husband, an affirmed reptile lover, who was jealous and even admitted to being so. Okay, jealousy of such things is obvious and on the surface in children. Yet we were dealing with adults here who, it seems, covet visits from animals. We cherish an interchange with a creature. And why?
I remember the Sunday night a few years ago, apprehensive about a challenging week ahead, when I saw a stag in the woods behind our house. I called to my husband to come see him. He was stunning with huge antlers, an imposing presence. And suddenly I knew everything would be alright. Why? Because the stag in the distance– majestic, princely, beautiful was a sign.
And how thrilled we are to have a snapping turtle return every year to lay her eggs in our driveway. We feel privileged. Again, blessed. Or when, with delighted guests, we saw a giant luna moth flying in the porch light one night. And the countless times a butterfly lands on one’s body, on a shoulder or head, or a dragonfly visits an arm or a sleeve. And, the beautiful hummingbirds. We even had a hummingbird nest in our Black Birch. Such visits feel so special– to have these delicate, exquisite creatures land near us or live in the trees near our house. Even when my least favorite reptile makes an appearance out from under his home on our back deck, a tiny garter snake, the spirit soars.
Research has shown how having pets is therapeutic. We are blessed by animals who trust us utterly. We feel their trust and it is pure, unalloyed by human characteristics. We don’t deserve such trust and yet we receive it as a gift. We have made contact with a being of a different species who lives in a different world whose being synchronizes with different biological rhythms. The native Americans believed animals to be spiritual guides that have much to teach us. Psychology tells us Nature is a natural antidepressant. An animal can disarm the most defensive, enchant the most mentally ill, bring out the goodness in the criminal, and bring a smile to the face of the young, old and in-between.
And, yes, animals can be pests when they get into where they don’t belong or become aggressive or defensive in a bad way. But our world is a richer, more vibrant place because of them. Animals bring us out of ourselves and into the experience of awe. Their innocence lightens our loads, allowing us to share the “mystery of the other” with others, drawing us closer to our friends and family. We share the world with animals and they share their hearts with us. And their innocent interactions with us are blessings from God.
Cow Proves Animals Love, Think, And Act
This story says it all. See site for a happy outcome to this story in the comments. One farmer sees the light at least.
I just found a story here, on the globalanimal.org website, which is a wake up call for all animal lovers who still use dairy. Just like Deidra, the mother in this story demonstrated not only the love she had for her calf, but the complicated thought process she used in her attempt to save him:
By Holly Cheever DVM:
I would like to tell you a story that is as true as it is heartbreaking. When I first graduated from Cornell’s School of Veterinary Medicine, I went into a busy dairy practice in Cortland County. I became a very popular practitioner due to my gentle handling of the dairy cows. One of my clients called me one day with a puzzling mystery: his Brown Swiss cow, having delivered her fifth calf naturally on pasture the night before, brought the new baby to the barn and was put into the…
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This “tres sensible,” furry doe appeared in our backyard one morning, showing no fear of us as we went about our activities. It pains me that Vassar College has hired hunters to feed deer, luring them to their death for mercenary gain in some non-sensical culling. As if hunting season weren’t bad enough. My heart sank for this fearless doe, unafraid of us. She must learn to be afraid of humans because humans are cold-hearted killers, hiding under the guise of sportsmanship and pest control. What kind of sport is this to entice deer to an area using food as bait and then, when trust is established, shooting them? It makes me ashamed of the human race. Issac Bashevis Singer, who fled the Nazis himself, and whose mother and brother were killed in the Camps, writes most eloquently on the subject in his ode to a mouse:
“What do they know—all these scholars, all these philosophers, all the leaders of the world—about such as you? They have convinced themselves that man, the worst transgressor of all the species, is the crown of creation. All other creatures were created merely to provide him with food, pelts, to be tormented, exterminated. In relation to them, all people are Nazis; for the animals it is an eternal Treblinka.”
Omens and Miracles
It was a beautiful autumn day. The air was the lovely cool that October brings and the birds and the squirrels were in a feeding frenzy. I barely noticed though because all morning was spent cleaning resistant rust stains with some horrid acid cleaner with all kinds of warnings on it. And I had a low fever and was feeling kind of lousy. A phone call set the afternoon on a downward spiral. It had been an angry phone call. I had called my husband at lunch time and he was showing all the signs of extreme job stress. He is a psychiatric social worker and at times it seems all of his clients act out at once and intakes happen and hospitalizations happen and whatever can go wrong, does. It was one of those kind of days. He proceeded to yell at me, for what seemed like fifteen minutes but was probably only five, about all that went wrong that day. Then suddenly the phone went dead. I called back immediately and got a fast busy signal. I tried again with the same result. And again. I tried the cell but, as usual, his cell was turned off. So there was no getting through. And he had a long commute home and considering his mood and all, I was totally alarmed. I tried him on and off all afternoon and finally left a message on his cell asking him to call me. He didn’t. Until well after the time he should have left work.
“Are you still speaking to me?” he asked right away. “Yes, of course, why do you ask?” “Because I was yelling at you at lunch time.” “I know and I was wondering why but I didn’t hang up. The phone went dead.” “Okay, I am on my way home. It will take some time because I was delayed and traffic is worse at this time.” “Okay,” I said. I didn’t say my usual “Be careful!” or other worried dictums. I was just happy he had called. When I hung up the phone I thanked God he had called and he seemed to have calmed down some since lunchtime. Things were looking better than they had at midday.
And then there was the unmistakable thud on the window. I hoped in vain it was a falling walnut since they bounce off the roof and such at this time of year. But two feathers on the window pane left telltale marks. I was felt ill. We had just put up a wooden bird house with suction cups in the window above to prevent bird collisions (according to the advertisement). I looked out the window on the deck for a body. None. I went outside. No bird. Such a loud thud though was unmistakable. When I turned the corner of the deck on to the lawn, sure enough, I saw the bird. He saw me and seemed too stunned to be afraid so I did a quick form of Japanese energy healing technique known as Reiki on him. Deciding my gigantic presence was probably stressing him out further I went inside. I could see him from the window. I did the symbols for distant healing and sent him the animal healing symbol. He sat there with his head resting on the ground. At least he did not have his beak open in a screech like a wounded blue jay a few months ago but things did not look good.
Now half of me comes from a Sicilian background and it is a strong strain in my psyche. My maternal grandfather was a peasant working in the stone quarries of Sicily when, at 16, he fulfilled his dream of coming to the United States. Here he wound up becoming a lawyer but only after first doing stone work to finance his night schooling. Among his carving work was the Lincoln Gettysburg address at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. He was an exceptional man and I was very close to him as a little girl. His peasant background never left him. This was both good and bad. The bad, he and his wife and my mother were very superstitious. They believed in omens and signs. And this was instilled in me. Now to have this bird fly into the window just after talking to my husband about his long commute home was all too much. I argued in my mind against omens and superstitions but in my gut I was sick.
I kept checking on the bird, wondering if he was dead yet and if I should go bury him so he wouldn’t get eaten. I did more Reiki. I cried. It was not only that this poor little bird was hurt and probably going to die but what he represented. The birds had been in a feeding frenzy these past few days. I had just refilled the bird feeder yesterday and it was half empty not even 24 hours later. And it was bird central. Birds flying like kamikaze planes all over the front yard. When I went to fill the bird feeder a bird stayed on eating to the very last minute, unafraid of my approach. And as soon as I put the feeder back up in the tree he was back, not even waiting for me to leave. In this frantic feeding no wonder there was an accident.
I went back to the window to check the bird again. His head had been resting on the ground and things definitely did not look good! But, did I see his head up now? Yes, he had lifted up his head and he was moving his head right and left and up and down. I prayed in desperation. And I kept watching feeling guardedly hopeful. And next thing I knew he took to the air and flew to the swamp somewhere lost to my eyes. I was ecstatic. I got down on my knees and thanked God. This was truly a miracle. In my pessimism and superstition that I must battle with daily I have lost all faith in miracles. But miracles do happen. The guy at work who was on death’s door after collapsing outside the library and wound up having cancer, was now fully tumor free and working out at the gym. Another miracle. People and birds don’t always die even when things look their bleakest. Sometimes there are miracles. And my husband came home safe and sound and apologized to me and was happy to be home. Sometimes, too, there are happy endings.
(This is dedicated to my brother who died a year ago this Father’s Day after a long and courageous battle with lung cancer.)
It is Springtime and I am doing my annual Spring cleaning– maniacally giving away old and unused clothes and items that no longer serve or never did. Some things I remember as I go through the linen chest– others are totally forgotten as to origin and use. And then it hits. In the corner of the chest is a neatly folded piece of green check cotton cloth. I immediately know its source. It is the cloth my Mother used to make curtains for her kitchen. Mom was always making curtains. When my husband and I were married she made curtains for our first apartment. We are still using them. Seeing this green check cloth brings me back to a hard period in my life when seeing my Mother was my only joy. We are sitting at the table in her kitchen having tea and laughing. It is a happy meeting. So many years ago.
And now with the sun shining and the birds singing and fresh air wafting in through the windows I am struck with uncontrollable grief. Tears that feel they could go on forever. It is as if she just died yesterday. But there is one difference, the remorse and the resentment I felt at the time is finally gone for the very first time. Some harsh words from my Mother as she lay dying, my lack of empathy and leaving without saying goodby for what was to be the last time– all this led to fifteen years of not being able to think of my Mother without guilt and deep regret. It was as if all of the good times we shared were negated by this one memory. Now the tears seem to be some sort of liquid acid dissolving the stone of resentment, guilt and remorse that squelched all the good. I feel cleansed and feel like I could cry a good, long cry as I go outside to sit in the sun. The sun seeps down in the wound like a salve.
Grief is not just a human phenomenon. Elephants will stand over the dead body of one of their herd, in some way showing respect for the departed spirit. And I think of examples close to home. The doe we saw one day going over to the dead body of a fawn on the side of the road. Or the baby rabbit we saw crossing into the middle of the road where a large mass of flesh with fur lay. And even closer to home– my husband and I adopted my Mother’s dog once Mom got too sick to care for her. Ko-ko had stayed with us many times in our house and loved being there. We never took her to see Mom again because the parting was too hard on both of them. We did take her toys though, from Mom’s house one night, and put them in our bedroom, among them a corroded rubber Santa. We were sitting at dinner that night and Ko-ko went into the bedroom. We heard a heart-stopping yelp and then whimpering. We went in and found Ko-ko with her old Santa in her mouth. The Santa was her version of my green check curtain. A stabbing wound and tears.
Clearly animals feel grief. Some die of grief just like humans. Grief binds us together, human and animal, and perhaps provides the special appeal of the new life in Spring. Yet when Spring inspires happy faces and a general feeling of well-being, and flowers are blooming everywhere, the contrast can be cruel. As T.S. Eliot so eloquently put it: “April is the cruelest month.” But once it is June the new life has settled in and we can go out in the yard and bake in the sun– the universal giver of life.
We humans have no prerogative on grief. Our lives entwine with happy moments and tragic in this vast web of existence, and Spring and loss are just two facets of possibility.
(Click http://www.independentauthornetwork.com/ellen-stockdale-wolfe.html for information on, and to purchase my Bipolar/Asperger’s memoir.)