I awaken to moonlight– it is at that particular slant that lights up the front yard at 3 AM. What really has awakened me is my husband’s breathing. It is labored like he has just run up a flight of stairs. At times I awaken because I do not hear his breath and some alarm goes off in my head to check him. And if I can not hear him breathing I put my hand lightly on his chest so as not to wake him to see if I can feel the his heart beating. Feeling it pulsing in my hand I am reassured once more. I am not alone in this. My sister-in-law confides in me that she wakes up at night to listen to my brother to see if he is still breathing. My first-grade friend says much the same. She does a breathing check on her husband. Our husbands are relatively well. They have diabetes, heavy smoking and drinking, a delicate frame among them, but they are not on death’s door so far as we know. And yet we are plagued by morbid fears.
In the wee hours of morning fears loom large. My husband’s heartbeat, a mere flutter, seems so delicate. I am reassured that it is beating just as I am reassured that he is breathing. But the breath itself is so fragile. It scares me awe-fully– the fragility of the breath, the fine line between breathing and cessation of breath.
I prowl the house. Through the skylight the stars beam brightly along with a shining half moon. A clear day tomorrow. But it is already tomorrow. It is so still my ears hum. My husband, who knows so many interesting things, tells me the humming I hear is the sound of the nervous system. Our bodies hold such mystery.
I look out the window, now hearing my neighbor’s dogs barking quietly. I look for coyote thinking that is what they are barking at, but see nothing. The moonlit grass on the lawn is whitish silver, looking almost as if it had snowed, and the water in the marsh sparkles in the moonlight. The deep woods behind are pitch dark, the home of many a creature. Nothing stirs. It is too early for the birds. The house across the way is always dark; it is up for sale. And in the other direction, at this hour, no lights shine in the driveway of the house down the road.
I am reminded of a line from a poem by Tagore “Faith is the bird that feels the light when the dawn is still dark.” I am at my most faithless at 3 AM.
Along with the supreme beauty of Tagore’s thoughts, a frivolous line from an old song runs through my head: “There ought to be a moonlight savings time…” and the line continues so there would be more time for loving. But moonlight in the middle of the night also brings with it intense dreads.
Now chilled I finally go back to bed. An owl hoots in the distance– a reassuring sound. My husband is breathing freely now. His body is warm in the bed and I am filled with love for him as he lays in a heap, so trustingly in the arms of sleep. Our marriage a wonder. Unexpected. An endless source of ever increasing love brimming not only with joy but also the dread of loss. Perhaps all wives check their husbands for breathing. Perhaps there is an army of women out there prowling the wee hours of the night, at times by moonlight, checking on their husbands, their children, their animals to see that they all have that breath of life flowing.
“There is one way of breathing that is shameful and constricted. Then, there’s another way: a breath of love that takes you all the way to infinity.” Rumi said that. And it is breath of love that I must master.
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. 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.
Like many barns, ours was built near the road so we do get some traffic noise. But in the meadow out back beyond the marsh and stream, we are far removed from the road and from all. And when it snows, it is so beautiful in the quiet, looking at the animal tracks and feeling the spirits in the nearby now-graveless 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.
Every year what budded in autumn blossoms full blown in winter– my love affair with trees. Trees that were drop-dead gorgeous in their fall colors are now bare, with the exception of evergreens and a few stray deciduous trees that refuse to relinquish their leaves. Now the trees are stripped down to their souls and their souls sing a siren song to the universe.
The tops of trees lift my spirit; brushlike they paint the sky the baby pinks and blues of mornings, and the majestic magentas and violets of day’s end. Each tree has its signature shape against the sky, like a fingerprint or a snowflake, similar yet each unique. Some treetops in their bare state are shaped like a fancy coiffure; others look like wrought iron filigree. On distant mountains, against the snowy ground, some look like stubble on an old man’s unshaven face.
It is the colorful winter sky showing through, and showing off, the bare branches that woos me. The bare curvaceous branches are stark, dark lines against the bright of day and the inky sky of night. These resplendent creatures are living lines that explode. Branches tangle like the lines in a Jackson Pollock painting. Others curve in the sensuous lines of a Brancusi sculpture. Buxom tree trunks stand strong surrounded by their dead blossoms and their burgeoning offspring like a Renaissance Madonna. In truth these trees are not like art at all. Rather art imitates them– their beauty provides the timeless inspiration for artists, writers and poets of all ages and styles.
Trees not only inspire, they themselves are paragons of diversity. One look out of a car window while driving on the Taconic and one can see squat pines alongside towering majestic firs, birches interspersed with maple and oak. And together the different brown and tan barks interspersed with evergreens create not only a mosaic of contrasting colors, but display an example to inspire humans to live together in peaceful unity.
These beneficent beings carry the heavy, dark grey clouds of winter. When it snows the tree trunks become canvases for the abstract patterns of windblown-snow, while the serpentine branches are outlined in white. In ice storms their branches become chandeliers, each enveloped in glassine ice. While in the melancholy of a winter rain, the branches become oiled skins of snakes weeping to the ground below. And finally, in the night sky, the branches hold the stars in their arms, those with leaves holding them in their hands, as they nurse the moon.
All trees, no matter what their species, age or height, stand tall in proud humility, their arms reaching up to the Heavens to our Creator in prayer– soft-spoken beings of peace and tranquility towering over us, while the little creatures race around distractedly below.
“I think that I shall never see a poem lovely as a tree… a tree that looks at God all day and lifts her leafy arms to pray.” The opening lines of the poem,“Trees,” by Joyce Kilmer. Indigenous peoples through the ages have talked of tree spirits and trees as wise ones. Trees are striking as they permanently lift their arms to the Heavens in seeming prayer, day and night in communication with the Creator, their outstretched arms reaching for the stars.
Reaching for the stars. The image calls to mind a dance of the Kalahari Bushmen who were featured in the movie “The Gods They Must be Crazy.” The Kalahari, the last men born of the Stone Age culture according to Laurens Van Der Post, have no sense of individuality and so share all they have. They have a dance of gratitude which Van Der Post describes in his book entitled “A Mantis Carol”: “I never see their dancing without feeling deeply moved and utterly irreverent and blasphemous because of our own incapacity for acknowledging what life will give if only we will let it in.” And then there is their dance of the “great hunger,” a dance that says we do not live by bread alone, a dance at life’s end fraught with longing, with arms outstretched taughtly towards the Heavens as they reach for the stars.
My grandfather reached for the stars. He came to the United States, a 16-year-old peasant stonecutter from the mountains of Sicily, knowing no English. He wound up carving the Lincoln Gettysburg address at the Lincoln Memorial in DC. While working on the Gettysburg Address he studied English at night school. I remember him telling me how he was the laughing stock of his fellow stone cutters because, inspired by Lincoln’s words, he carved his initials at the top of the monument, “A.L.” for Anthony LaManna (and, of course, for Abraham Lincoln), followed by: “Attorney at Law.” Working his way through school, he actually did eventually become a VA lawyer. He reached for the stars and touched them without ever forgetting where he came from. And he was childlike as he took care of me, as we danced to records on the victrola or as he played the mandolin and sang to me. I always think of him with a tinge of sadness, for more than anyone, he taught me to reach for the stars.
Reach for the creator– that is what the trees say. At this time of year I yearn for the days of childhood in which God seemed close. This yearning fully ripens each year at Christmas/Hanukkah when the people brighten their houses with festive lights. It is a time of year in which we light up our hearts and look to the heavens and sing songs of love to a babe born not so very long ago, or in which we give thanks for the oil to light the lights of the temple for eight days. We are all really seeking the love that motivated the Kalahari Bushmen to do their dance. We are seeking a savior, and yearning for the Light in this overlit, commercialized, complicated world in which the inspiring simplicity of the Bushmen, the peasant, is rapidly disappearing. And the trees touch my heart in their upward reach for the Heavens. For at this time so many millions of them are sacrificed as they have become our Christmas trees and Hanukkah bushes, to be discarded after the holidays are over.
May we experience this holy season with a simpler yearning, not for presents and parties and hoopla, but with our hearts full of gratitude, taking lessons from the trees, from the Kalahari Bushmen, from our ancestors, and seek Love, in whatever form it takes in our souls.
December is my favorite time of year. In this month of darkness, in this the darkest month, the light of the human spirit shines forth in a fullness shown by so many, in so many ways. As the days grow shorter, houses and trees are decorated, and snow falls. In the hushed silence of the nights, lights shine in windows, and the beauty is shared by all. For this season of giving brings the festivals of lights: Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanza. Each tradition incorporates light in its ceremonies and decorations.
A neighbor friend of mine who lives down the road, a donkey in his stable, reminds me of the story of another manger 2000 years ago. And seeing him snug in his stable with snow on the ground gives the illusion that all is right in the world. But all is not well. Thousands know no peace in any season. Yet even those living in the worst conditions show the light of the human spirit and celebrate the season of light in personal ways. For the human spirit is indomitable.
In December’s darkness we light lights. For we are beings of light. A light glows within each one of us. And, at the most basic level, we are beings of light because we are made from stardust. Perhaps that is why the stars hold such majesty for us– we are made from star material.
Einstein said: “A human being is part of the whole, called by us the ‘Universe”– a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts, and feelings, as something separated from the rest– a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circles of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.” We are all cut from the same cloth and our inner light unites us.
And in this holiday season we behold the night sky as shepherds did two thousand years ago on the birth of the holy infant, in a stable like the one down the road where my donkey friend lives. That night a star lit the whole sky to guide the shepherds, and on these deep, long, silent nights as we light our houses, our candles, our trees, let us look inside ourselves and find the glow that may guide us to The Light
A holy Hannukah, a magical Christmas and the ecstasy of Sadhguru to all for the New Year! May we awaken from Maya and realize the wonders we are… for inside lives the sacred fire of Love.
It is late afternoon and spring by the calendar, although still quite cool. I have just spent some time at our neighbor’s pond, listening to a form of music that some have likened to the sound to bells. Others liken it to bird song. And still others with unimaginable disdain, to “some kind of nature noise.” For me it is one of the happiest of sounds– the act of creation transformed into sound decibels for all to hear. A sound that comes from the earth and resounds to the heavens, unwittingly praising the Almighty. It is a form of ecstasy when the sound surrounds me totally, filling my ears every evening with perhaps the single-most highlight of spring for me– the siren song of the Spring Peepers counterbalanced by the deeper sound of wood frogs.
How have they cast their spell over so many? I cannot say except that their song is uplifting and filled with hope despite the natural perils they face daily. For, as true of all of us, they may die at any moment– say as a meal for a nearby perching crow or underneath murky waters eaten by a snapping turtle. They call for a mate without ceasing, without fear, single-mindedly, without a thought for their own safety. This is nature at her most elemental, in her most singular scope. The peepers all sing out vying to be heard– an a cappella choir of voices. In some spots, I am told, their song is deafening. How nice to be there; I cannot get enough of their sweet music. It moves me to tears– these tiny creatures singing out their heart’s desire.
As I return home to family “situations” and domestic duties, I yearn for the simplicity and total fervor of their song. For if they sing then all is “right” in at least that small part of the world. Progress has not paved over their pond. Disdainful humans have not drained a “vernal pool.” David M. Carroll writes about vernal pools in his books on turtles called The Swampwalker’s Journal. As the title suggests, Carroll walks such places in search of turtles and other amphibians. He defines a vernal pool as a pool of water that fills up in Fall and Winter, swells in the Spring and often dries up by end of Summer. But a vernal pool is utmost a place of magic, not only where turtles lurk, but where mating frogs deposit gelatinous eggs which turn into tadpoles first, and there, later become frogs. And after a requisite series of warm days, followed by spring rains, on the first dark night, vernal pools become the site of the “salamander night.” Salamanders leave their hibernacula to go for a night of endless mating and then return to leaf litter in the woods to disappear for the rest of the year. Some people who know nothing of vernal pools and their function deem them a nuisance, a big puddle to be filled in or drained. Some people know little of spring peepers and wood frogs except that they are “noisy,” “like some sort of insect.” Poor insects are made out to be the pesky lowest of the low. The natural symphony of hormonal, harmonic sounds sometimes falls on deaf ears.
After finishing my evening chores, I try reading, but find the haunting sound of the spring peepers and wood frogs digging deep within my psyche, making me restless, wishing to be part of that pond, surrounded on all sides by the sex song, inebriated with the unbridled joy in the air, submerged in the utter power of nature manifesting in one of her gentler forms. For the song of the Spring Peepers nature celebrates life-to-be rather than the taking-away of life. Most of all, the song of the Spring Peepers is a song of tremendous faith, faith in love, faith that love will propagate, and faith that new life will emerge.
Sitting in the sun, acclimating to the gentle June heat, swatting away an annoysome fly who keeps returning over and over, I know this swatting is definitely wrong—a stirring of the killer instinct. I remember naturalist artist and writer and turtle man, David M. Carroll, keeping his hand steady, while being bitten by hordes of mosquitoes, so as not to scare away the turtles as he paints them . Clearly he is a superior soul in his patient endurance of being bitten and as his, almost spiritual, beautifully poetic, writings and drawings reveal. I remember, too, the words of Pema Chodron, Buddhist teacher and nun, who teaches and preaches practicing compassion on little things, learning not to “bite the hook” of anger.
So I let the fly alight on my ankle and he seemingly happily stays on my leg and does not bite. I begin to try to image feeling kinship with this fly who likes my leg, fighting the idea that he is laying eggs in my skin. Pema Chodron has clearly inspired a city girl, afeared of bugs, to make friends with a fly as I watch the universe of insects beneath my feet. A Daddy Long legs crawls on my camera bag, hitches a ride to our bed when I go inside the house. I bring him back to his home outside.
This compassion things feels right, start small and grow big. As if to reinforce this point a butterfly lands on my chest when I return to my contemplation spot in our back yard. But all is not sweetness and light. Later the same fly (I swear it is) who landed on my leg now activates karma for my earlier murderous impulses towards him. He lands on my toe and bites me. A cautionary tale against getting too carried away with being virtuous. Still worse, later as I walk in the coolness of early evening, a bug lands on my arm and attempts a vigorous bite. In an instant, a reflexive smack smooches him dead.
So it would seem I have to start even smaller with my acts of compassion. How much smaller can one start? I wonder with daunting discouragement about the many, many more lives I will have to live to learn lessons of compassion and no anger. I contemplate the prospect of how many, many more films I will have to view in this movie house of Maya we call life. When, oh when, will I learn all my lessons? When, oh, when, will the sun set for good for me on this circle of life so I can exit the orbit and rest beyond the stars??
A chill wind blows the yellowing leaves off the trees. They drift down to the ground like giant snowflakes. The air is pregnant with the feel of the coming holidays. Fall has truly come, with the sudden drop in temperatures, a full 10-20 degrees cooler than a few weeks ago. This is the real Fall, no faltering Fall, but a Fall that will guide us appropriately into winter. November appears as a mirror image of March with its vibrant color of decay, while March is the decaying color of about-to-burst-forth Spring.
The birds are at the bird feeder all the time now. They are not stopped by our presence when we come to fill the feeder or blow leaves under it. Nothing stops them. They swoop around the feeder and the surrounding trees like Kamikaze pilots, darting here and there recklessly. The squirrels are in a frenzy as well, stock piling acorns and walnuts which they will retrieve without fail in a month or so in a snow-covered land.
To me, the trees are most beautiful at this time of year, when many of them are bare and a scattering of leaves remain on dark brown branches. The leaves that remain quiver daintily in their precarious positions on the tree limbs. Yet these are the survivors. The other leaves have fallen and gone the way all living things eventually go. Most trees have lost all their leaves and they stand in stark contrast against the blue sky, the stormy sky, the grey sky. But I find them most beautiful against the night sky, with arms reaching up to the darkness, trying to touch the stars twinkling between the branches, as moonlight dances on their limbs.
November holds the last glimmer of color. A carpet of yellow lines the woods now– and one can see inside the woods that are so dark and impenetrable in summer. Some forests have carpets of oak leaves– dark brown tan in color. Others are paved with variegated colors– vibrant crimsons against yellows and faded greens and tawny tans. The un-mown lawns are now taken over by the spiders covering the fields. At precious moments, one can see a world of webs that only appears in a certain slant of sunlight and reveal a silent take-over by the spiders in webs that sparkle secretly, mirroring the infinite web of creation.
The yellow, brown, and crimson leaves are complemented by the ubiquitous yellow, brown and crimson mums that appear on the roadside near mail boxes, on porches or along driveways. These tough little flowers withstand frosty chills and stand tall throughout most of November– hearty, generous souls, so giving in their colorful, velvety splendor.
Halloween pumpkins begin to sag a bit or shine with wetness as if encased in glass. They will soon be tossed– pine combs, wreaths and fir swags to take their places, and the season of lights will begin. Anticipation hangs in the air. Autumn seems the fastest season to come and go. I try treasuring each moment, but the minute/hours/days just sift through my fingers like so many grains of sand. Then Christmas/Hanukkah comes and fades in a flash and we are into the Nor’Easter blizzards of January. Another year is gone and a new one has come. Would that we could be in forever in the season of love, but it is also a season of loneliness and loss and darkness. It is good we are defenseless against time.
Now, at Thanksgiving, it is our time to give thanks. Inspired by the Native Americans, let us thank the earth. Let us give thanks to the trees for their constantly changing beauty, to the stars for their piercing presence in the night sky, to the leaves for their inspiring colors, to the sun for its life-giving power. Let us thank the Spring for its awakening hope, the Summer for its warm, thriving growth, the Fall for its beauteous bounty, to the Winter for a time of renewal. Let us thank the soon-to-come snow for its hushed, white silence that transforms our world, to all the animals for their pure souls, to our families and friends for their precious love, and, lastly, but mostly, to the Higher Power of our belief for the macrocosm of creation.
Happy Thanksgiving and may you each be blessed with the all-embracing, pervasive, pulsating Love in Nature.
He wasn’t the only one who spoke of these things. I spent much time in grammar school at the house of my Polish friend whose mother was an artist. She told us about trees talking and, she used to say, talking to them made her feel happy. At the time I did not think much of it. But now, many years later, on walks, occasionally a tree will say something. Utter a benevolent greeting. And now, I find myself so in love with trees, I shoot portraits of them constantly, singly or in groups, with their “friends and relations.”
Any doubts I had about trees communicating were put to rest when I read in this paper, in J.Gordon Douglas’s column in the now defunct Dutchess CountyRegister Herald, about how trees in an area communicate with one another in planning their reproduction strategies for the season or warning each other chemically about caterpillar infestations. Scientists are not sure how. Maybe through the roots.
Not only do plants have feelings, they can also generate energy. See the website by artist, Caleb Charland. He used apple trees to generate light. Perhaps one day we will use plants for alternative energy– just another amazing aspect to nature’s ways:
Of course, hearing them “talk” is a little different. However, Valerie Wormwood, one of the world’s leading aromatherapists, in her book entitled The Fragrant Heavens, tells us not only does the earth hum but it emits a low frequency radio signal known as the ‘Shumann resonance” and this signal can be detected coming off trees. She relays that researchers in America wanted to know if this signal could be altered by human thoughts or feelings. They had a group of people circle a tree and say Native American prayers, sending the tree love. They attached electrodes like those measuring human brain waves to the tree. A response not only registered but the sensors went off the scale. Clearly some form of communication went on, confirming my Polish friend’s mother’s belief and many others as well. When trees are cut down we are not only destroying the tree we are cutting down and giving it a terminal sentence as firewood or worse, but we are also upsetting all the trees around the “victim.” The surrounding trees must witness their friend and neighbor being chopped down. Do they feel outrage, fear, sadness?
We do know now that they feel something. Wormwood tell us that in 1966 Cleve Backster, a lie detector expert in New York, had a group of students go into a room with 2 plants next to each other on a table. One of the 6 students was chosen to “murder” one of the plants, hacking it to bits and then they all left the room. After the attack Backster attached the lie detector to the “survivor” and had the students enter the room again one by one. The sensors were quiet as the “innocent” students entered but when the “attacker” entered they started jumping “wildly.” I think of this as I weed the gardens in the summer. Sometimes we are forced to cut down a tree and we must pick vegetables to eat. And we have to weed the gardens. But perhaps it is in how we do it. If we can express gratitude and appreciation and maybe an apology. Or if we could ask permission perhaps, as the Native Americans do. When they take from the earth they give an offering as well.
The Native Americans had the real idea for giving thanks, for thanksgiving. It was not about stuffing oneself with sweet potatoes and gorging on gravy and turkey. They gave Thanksgiving to Spirit in the earth, in the trees, in the animals, for whatever they took. Flowers “giggle” and trees “talk”. If only we would be attuned enough to listen. Sentient beings surround us and we must follow the lead of the Native Americans at Thanksgiving and give thanks for what we take from the earth, and, of course, from the animal kingdom, and give back something in return. Even if it is only words, but words with heart behind them, words that understand the sacrifice made by sentient beings for us, words that capture the true spirit of Thanksgiving.
After awaiting September all summer, the month of the Autumnal Equinox came and is almost gone. I try desperately to stop time, clinging to each day, to no avail. These next few months, my favorite time of year, go by in a flash, like sand sifting through my fingers. Poof! In a flash the trees turn beauteous, with variegated flames of color. Poof! The leaves are gone.
First, there is the change in light. The sun, still hot in mid-September, does not pack the punch it did in July, when one could be outdoors for an hour and come in with a change in skin color. Temperatures cool. The grass starts to stop growing. The “blood” of the trees starts to flow back into the trunk, causing leaves to change color. Walnuts, acorns and apples fall. Butterflies, so rampant outdoors in August, have gone inside the stomach of many a child as they go back to school. Even adults are not immune. Many feel the flutter of “back-to-school” anxiety come Fall. Summer vacations are a memory and it is time to “honker down” at work. Fall offers a new beginning but there is a tinge of anxiety in facing some thing new.
And most of all, Fall is a time of riotous color, when a walk in the woods finds one reveling like a drunk, besotted by the yellow, orange, crimson, russet world which our eyes imbibe like a hefty cocktail. It is a time when Italian comes to the lips in a loud “Que bella!!” The green of summer is bucolic and raises the spirit, but the many colors of fall intoxicate. People start talking of peak color, and leafing becomes the pastime of many. It is the time to plant bulbs and endlessly rake blowing leaves.
But Fall is a time of melancholia, too. Flowers die. Reptiles go into hibernation. Insects die or overwinter. Songbirds migrate. Trees eventually loose their leaves. And the end of the lazy days of summer brings with it shorter days, longer nights, and concomitant depression for those with Seasonal Affective Disorder. Moments of sobriety seep into intoxication with the new world of color as we may remember loved ones who can no longer share the beauty–who can no longer enjoy those coveted, cooler, crisp days of September when coolness kisses the cheeks. For autumn is a celebration of endings, too, perhaps best described by the French poet, Guillaume Appollinaire, in his poem Autumn:
“A bowlegged peasant and his ox receding
through the mist slowly through the mist of autumn…
Oh the autumn the autumn has been the death of summer
In the mist there are two gray shapes receding.”
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September sunlight dances on drying leaves, sparkling like diamonds against a flowing stream, an azure sky. The plants of summer are dying. Flowers that have given such joy all summer long are now spurned by us as they shrivel into the paradoxical beauty of old age. The sun burns lightly on summer-drenched skin as clouds intrude intermittently into the almost- Autumn interlude– a gentle foretaste of the cold to come. The last butterflies of summer flit among the blossoming Goldenrod and browning Joe Pie Weed.
The beauty of Fall is the beauty of a dying season. It is the season of death– an alternative to the dew-like bloom of youth in Spring.
When I was very young, I felt death in nature. I could feel what it must feel like to be a tree or a flower—to just “be”—the Buddhist dictum which I cannot now master. In my late twenties, my mind broke into smithereens like shattered glass, and I had a choice to make between going on psych meds or going to hospital. I chose the former and have lived some 40 years more with that choice. I will not say it was a happy choice, at the risk of sounding ungrateful, because I have become driven into a fury of manic activity and self-seeking in stark contrast to the just “being” of my early youth. The psych meds have dispelled my “egolessness” which, in turn, makes me more able to “function”– at a price. For I no longer feel the waves of peace lapping at the shores of my mind and my religious feelings have, comparatively speaking, shriveled up like the summer flowers in the Fall. “It’s always a trade-off” I am told over and over again. My doc told me once that I am one of the lucky ones because for some people the meds don’t work at all. That shut me up and those words periodically pump gratitude into my system. I have remained med-compliant mainly because the meds have kept me out of hospital, DO allow me to function, and, most importantly, I have discovered that being able to function means allowing me to love.
And although more self-seeking, paradoxically this med-induced functionality allows me to give back to the world. My gift is to describe the “just- being” in nature that was imprinted indelibly on my mind when I was young. Death seemed beautiful to me then, a state of simply being at one with the soul of nature. Now I confess to a fear of dying, rather than a fear of death, but most of all, a fear of loss of the love of my life. For we are in the September of our lives and all is intensified now that we are more aware of our finiteness. Truth be told this was always potentially the case, but we lived, like most youth, in the inevitable delusion of immortality.
So I function now at the cost of loss of my revered altered states of consciousness. Perhaps I am in September mind, channeling words and images of the beauty of nature that flooded me long ago are a mere trickle now, as my time to “just be,” once more for this time round, approaches.
The horses are in the home stretch with the school-imposed end of summer approaching, Labor Day weekend, a weekend I look forward to all summer long for love of Fall. It is not a good way to think– the way I do. Religious leaders preach living in the present. This very moment in time is all we have. Literally. I have yet to overcome my hyperactive mind and many bad ways of thinking. And this year for some reason I am feeling melancholic about the summer ending. Perhaps it is because I am sick with a fever and not sure where the hazy heat of the sun ends and the lazy heat of the fever begins. Perhaps it is because it is a perfect day. A breeze whispers through what I call (in my ignorance of its real name) the “penny tree.” When the wind blows, the pale green leaves look like so many pennies shimmering down from Heaven. The sun is so hot it tingles on the skin– yet it is not the strong sun of July that burns quickly. It is a far gentler sun. The angle of its diurnal slant is different. Summer is definitely slipping away.
The bees, wasps and yellow jackets are having a heyday in the Goldenrod, Joe Pye Weed and Purple Loosestrife. The marsh is thick with flying insects. My eyes capture swallow-tails. Happily the monarchs are still here. A turkey vulture circles overhead. He must have spotted death nearby. Earlier I saw two golden hawks fly, sunlit, into the back field. A wisp of a cloud floats by in an otherwise perfectly blue sky. This summer has flown by in the blink of an eye like a fritillary flits by the flowers in the marsh.
The smell of fresh-cut lawn is intoxicating to my raw senses. Soon the grass will cease to grow and the lush green will look washed out. All of its inhabitants in the metropolis beneath our feet will dig deep underground or turn off their bodily systems to “overwinter”– an amazing concept to a mammal. Some fill their bodies with a type of antifreeze. Nature never ceases to astound. This summer I have made my peace with the insects. Terrified of them as a child, I have come to love and respect them, indeed hold them in great awe for the feats they accomplish. Our accomplishments pale as humans, supposedly so superior.
No longer do I see turtles sunning on rocks, nor snakes coming out to bask in the heat of the road. Some species of birds have already left– unbeknownst to me. I just know that some I used to see are gone. The sweet bird song of the spring mating season is a fleeting memory. One lone humming-bird flies around the marsh intermittently, causing great excitement in the viewing audience.
It is the time to dead head the flowers of summer. It is the time of Black-Eyed Susans and Peonies and Sedum. And soon it will be the time of the Mums.
With each gust of wind yellow finger-like walnut leaves shower down on our heads– like large, oddly-shaped, yellow snowflakes– a foretaste of snowfalls to come. The sun’s shadows grow long as twilight nears. Soon the white cloud “lions and tigers and bears” will retire into the black cave of night. And the summer will die, and in dying, give birth to fall. The comfortable rhythm of the changing season beats in our sometimes unhearing hearts.
(Click http://www.independentauthornetwork.com/ellen-stockdale-wolfe.html for information on, and to purchase my Bipolar/Asperger’s memoir.)
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.)
As twilight falls, as we approach August, the little sparks of light appear nightly– fireflies, lightning bugs, glow worms, whatever one chooses to call them. They start early in July– one sees a few sparks here and there but as July draws to a close, twilights dawn with a display of tiny fireworks. Why do they hold such fascination for young and old alike? Why do they bring us such a sense of wonder as they flicker on and off in some rhythm unknown to us but titillating in their communication with each other?
Of course I remember, like everyone else, catching fireflies. It was a ritual my Sicilian grandfather reenacted with me every summer. Grandma would save me a peanut butter jar, nicely washed with little holes in the top she made with an old-fashioned can opener. Grandpa and I would go out for an after-dinner walk, a treat in itself. It was an excursion with a purpose, a hunt to catch those bugs whose tail ends light up, on and off, I learned later, to signal mates.
Grandpa always managed to catch one and we would walk home victorious, with me clutching my precious jar with my favorite kind of bug residing within. There was the exciting story we would tell Grandma and she would give me a lettuce leaf in case the bug should be hungry in the night. Then to bed. And then the real waiting began– lying in the dark with the jar on the bedside table waiting for my captive bug to alight. I would wait and wait but no flickering light appeared and before long I would fall asleep in the arms of disappointment.
It was even worse in the morning. The lightning bug did not look well. His antennae would be damp and sticking to the jar in a bad way. He was not eating the lettuce leaf. And this was my first lesson in the perils of capturing and imprisoning a wild creature. They did not behave like they did when free. Finally in a child’s form of despair, I would let him go and he would leave so much the worse for wear. What is this human quest to capture animals for our own pleasure at their peril? Think zoos, circuses, the exotic pet trade. It is awe gone rancid, becoming greed, selfishness, a fetid form of supremacy.
Years later, on my husband’s great aunt’s farm in Ohio, the trees would be filled with lightning bugs mating. It was a sight I had never seen. Whole trees would light up at once and upon close examination one would find hundreds of fireflies. It was a cathedral of flickering lights that inspired reverence for God as we beheld the mystery with our hearts.
And now, living in a converted barn which allows many bugs to enter despite window screens, I no longer want to capture fireflies and put them in a jar. I am happy to see them fly freely inside and outside the house. They bring sheer delight as they light up in the darkness. I am a child again with my grandfather, as I stay awake as long as possible, watching the little flickering lights inside the room and outside in the trees. I think of simpler days and after dinner walks with Grandpa. I think a lot of my grandparents with nostalgia, and the magic of this tiny bug amazes still. But wild creatures belong in the wild. A lesson to be learned from this Midsummer Night’s dream.
Sap is flowing through ice and snow
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 let 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 used to return to our drive way every year to lay her eggs. I think of the spring peepers whose joyous song heralds spring next door every year, and I fear for the future of them all.
It is frigid outside and has been for a long time. It is very cold in many parts of the country. The holidays have come and gone. The hoopla of the inauguration is over. Now begins the nitty-gritty of hard winter work. I find myself listless and not wanting to go outside or exercise or paint or take pictures or do much of anything I usually love to do. I have a cold but that does not excuse this lassitude. When I go to my favorite deli, I find that Terry, the sandwich lady, is in the same mood. “I was ready to go home the moment I came in,” she says. My husband was dour and I was sour. What is the meaning of this discontent? Could it be some vestigial remnant of human hibernation? While man has never hibernated, science finds his metabolism slows down in winter and he becomes less active. Binging on food and drink over the holidays may not be the sole reason for weight gain in winter. Perhaps we should be sleeping off the extra pounds.
I who love winter and live for fall each summer, find myself longing to hear the music of the spring peepers. It is months away– well about a month and a half away. They signal for me the first harbingers of new life. Terry, who also loves winter, tells me today she is sick of winter as she makes our sandwiches. Perhaps it is this string of Arctic air and grey days and icy road conditions and snow every few days. Perhaps, and more likely, it is the human condition to always be dissatisfied.
I miss the squirrels. It has been so cold and snowy they seem to be laying low in their nests. Judging from the tracks in the snow the animals most on the move are the deer. And as much as I love the silence of winter, I find myself longing for the sweet dulcet music of birdsong at mating season in spring.
We bought a calendar for the new year with a celestial map of the sky for each month so you can find the constellations in the night sky. We have yet to go out with flashlights and match the map with the canopy of stars. It has been too overcast or too cold or too something. But my dazzled psyche is humbled by the view of the stars through the stripped down trees that we see from bed every night.
Then again maybe it is laziness. Too many sugar highs in December have led to a deep low in February. And after a tease of spring one day in which the temperature reached almost 60 degrees we were let down even further. Not liking being unproductive, I think I can overcome this. But maybe I should just go with the flow and accept a period of inactivity, let the land lay fallow, so that an increase in productivity may eventually result.
I know I should focus on what is positive. Winter is the season of silent beauty that I so long for in the summer heat. I delight in the quiet of winter days. The snows bring a hushed stillness good for the soul. It is a time to regroup. Spring will come. Hopefully if man has not destroyed all the vernal pools, the spring peepers will return. And if pesticides have not destroyed all the birds, sweet mating songs will be sung. And if the weather turns more clement, our spirits will soar once again, and we will be busy bees making honey while the sun shines.
Sitting in our living room, with all the little, dairy barn windows alive with falling flakes of snow, it is as if my husband and I were on a ship, floating on a sea of white. The living room in our converted dairy barn has the feeling of a ship cabin, and I think it most beautiful when the snow is falling.
The glass doors in the kitchen give us perfect view of the bird feeder, our television in all seasons. In winter we watch male cardinals, bright red in the stark white, feed and contend with the beautiful, bullying blue jays. And the more modest, gentle, tiny 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 shrill cries of territoriality. The ground was too frozen for them to retrieve the nuts they had buried in the fall. 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 see the sky through what used to be the hayloft door, now a cathedral window. The thermometer tells us how cold it is though we can feel the chill in the air. We gauge the depth of the snowfall by watching the squirrels running along the limbs of the trees, cleaning off the heavy snow. They seem friskiest just after a snowfall.
And if we are lucky, and the snow is deep enough, we get out our snow-shoes and climb up the hill out back to what we were told was once a Christian Indian burial ground. There are no markers left but the spot has the air of the sacred and it affords mountain views 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. In the summer the path is too full of saplings and underbrush to walk the “meadow.”
On our half of the meadow there is a squat fir tree 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.
Like many barns, ours was built near the road so there is some traffic noise. But in the meadow we are far removed from the road. When it snows, it is so beautiful in the quiet, looking at the animal tracks, and feeling the spirits in the graveyard. A secret, little piece of Paradise. And to stand there in the virgin white silence, and see the abstract patterns of the snow on the surrounding hundreds of trees, is a taste of the Divine.
Every year what starts as a budding romance in autumn blossoms into a full-blown love affair in winter– my pitter-patter passion for trees. Trees that were drop-dead-gorgeous in their fall colors are now bare, with the exception of evergreens and a few stray deciduous trees that refuse to relinquish their leaves. Stripped down to their souls and the trees sing a siren song to the universe.
The tops of trees lift my spirit; brush-like they paint the sky with the baby pinks and blues of mornings, and the majestic magentas and violets of day’s end. Each tree has its signature shape against the sky, like a fingerprint or a snowflake– similar yet each unique. In their bare state, some treetops are shaped into fancy coiffures– others into wrought iron filigree. On distant mountains, against the snowy ground, still others assume the image of stubble on an old man’s unshaven face.
It is the colorful winter sky showing through, and showing off, the bare branches that woos me. The bare, curvaceous branches are stark, dark lines against the bright of day and the inky sky of night. These resplendent creatures are living lines that explode. Branches tangle like the lines in a Jackson Pollock painting. Others curve with the sensuous lines of a Brancusi sculpture. Buxom tree trunks stand strong surrounded by their dead blossoms and their burgeoning offspring like a Renaissance Madonna. In truth these trees are not like art at all. Rather art imitates them– their beauty provides the timeless inspiration for artists, writers and poets of all ages and styles.
Trees not only inspire, they are paragons of diversity. One look out of a car window while driving on the Taconic and one can see squat pines beside towering majestic firs, birches interspersed with maple and oak. And together the different brown and tan barks interspersed with evergreens create not only a mosaic of contrasting colors, but display an example to inspire humans to live together in peaceful unity.
These beneficent beings carry the heavy, dark grey clouds of winter. When it snows the tree trunks become canvases for the abstract patterns of windblown-snow, while the serpentine branches are outlined in white. In ice storms their branches become chandeliers, each with glassine ice crystals tinkling in the wind. In the melancholy of a winter rain, the branches become oiled skins of snakes weeping to the ground below. And finally, in the night sky, the branches hold the stars in their arms, those with leaves, in their hands, as they nurse the moon.
All trees, no matter what their species, age or height, stand tall in proud humility, their arms reaching up to the Heavens to our Creator in prayer– soft-spoken beings of peace and tranquility towering over us, while we, wee, little creatures race around distractedly in a dither below.
It is a “dog day” in August, with the mercury near 90 degrees. It is the weekend and I am sitting in the backyard watching for wildlife. The birds are laying low. Our normally “Grand Central” marsh out back, our playground for the birds who fly hither and thither most of the time, is seemingly empty. The leaves on the trees are still except for the occasional breeze that cools the sweat on the body, and moves leaves on the tree I call the “penny tree” (because its leaves shimmer like so many pennies in the wind). A frog jumps at my feet in the shade taking measured leaps, all too aware of my presence despite my stillness.
Purple Loosestrife is emerging in the late summer marsh, along with Goldenrod and Joe Pie Weed. Bees swarm all over the Joe Pie Weed. Giant yellow swallow-tails flit among the Loosestrife. Every time I try to take a picture of them they are on to new horizons. In fact, no one is moving much except the insects, and they are moving in a frenzied pace as if to make up for lost time.
In torpor, my mind melding with the heat, finally I am driven to move out of the sun to shade in order to see better. Tiny fritillary fly to and fro. I look up at the still trees and feel peace, a soothing peace that my soul hungers for most of the time. It makes me feel guilty though, feeling this peace while so many near and dear to me are in distress. Perhaps I feel guilty because my husband is inside resting, way too tired from a hard week at work, at a hard job, giving therapy to the mentally ill in the South Bronx. He is in a foul mood after a bad week and it is his father’s birthday, the first birthday since his father died last fall. But deep down I know the guilt largely stems from the fact that my brother is dying of cancer. Lung cancer. Stage 3. Inoperable. With 2-4 months left to live. I spoke to him on the phone the afternoon before his first chemo the other day. My macho brother said, “I am scared.” A first for a brother who rarely admits to any feelings at all. And he called me right after the chemo to say he was okay, but I have not heard since. I hope it is because he had a test Friday and has no results yet to share. I fear though that the silence means he is feeling sick from the chemo.
Chemo is different these days. When my best friend, Mom and Dad had chemo 16, 22 and 25 years ago, you could die from it. And it made them very ill. More people are surviving today but as far as chemo goes, things have not progressed that much.
So here I sit contemplating nature, feeling one with God while my brother sits in Michigan with his wife and three adopted kids, dying. Is it fair? No. Will we visit him? Maybe. If I can sedate myself so as not to go to pieces when I see him at 5’7″ and 106 pounds, looking unlike the brother I ever knew. Can he pull through? Possibly. More people are surviving cancer these days. Can it be possible that my kid brother has cancer? It can’t be. Do I cry? On and off. At the most inopportune times. Is my brother brave? Yes. Because he didn’t have health insurance and because he was afraid and because he was in pain, he did not go the doctor for a year. He fought his cancer on his own with ibuprofen! Now he is on morphine. That’s brave and not brave. Making a joke saying, “Well, I STILL have my hair!” just a few hours after his first chemo is funny. It is also brave. My brother didn’t get help until he collapsed one day, bringing up blood. Losing my balance, I had fallen on my face one hour before my brother collapsed. Is there a link between loved ones that operates when one is failing? I think so.
Although I sit writing in the cooling shade, transported to another plane, I am thinking of my brother and my husband and his widowed stepmother and his sister whose birthday is also next week. Susan had a mastectomy last summer. She is just one of the many suffering in our world. The “dog days” of summer are upon us and for some there are nothing but dog days.
I absorb all the life about me, the frog hopping periodically, the catbird whining, the insects flying frantically, gliding butterflies that fly by too fast, and I wonder about this thing called life. How long it seems sometimes, and yet it goes by in a blink of the eye. In the cooling air as the shadows lengthen, bringing more shade and delightful zephyrs, the birds return and a robin eyes me curiously. I give thanks to the Creator for giving us islands of beauty in a sometimes grim world, for the islands of happiness, in devastation, for islands of peace that well up from the soul within, even in the worst of times.
Happy Birthday, Dad! We miss you. Happy Birthday, Susan! May you remain cancer-free. And, most of all, Happy Birthday, Tony! May your birthday next week not be your last! God bless you all!
Note: The above was written in August, 2009. My brother lived another two years and died June 17, 2011. My sister-in-law celebrated her 4th year cancer-free just a month ago.
(Click http://www.independentauthornetwork.com/ellen-stockdale-wolfe.html for information on, and to purchase my Bipolar/Asperger’s memoir.)
I awaken to moonlight– it is that particular slant of silver that lights up the front yard at 3 AM. What really has awakened me is my husband’s breathing. It is labored like he has just run up a flight of stairs. At times I awaken because I do not hear his breath and some alarm goes off in my head to check on him. If I cannot hear him breathing I put my hand ever so lightly on his chest so as not to wake him, to see if I can feel his heart beating. Feeling it pulsing in my hand I am reassured once more. I am not alone in this breath-check business. My sister-in-law confides in me that she wakes up at night to listen to my brother to see if he is still breathing. My grade school friend says much the same. Our husbands are relatively well. They have diabetes, heavy smoking/drinking, and a delicate frame among them, but they are not on death’s door so far as we know. And yet we are plagued by morbid fears.
In the wee hours of morning hobgoblins of fear loom large. My husband’s heartbeat, a mere flutter, seems so delicate. I am reassured that it is beating just as I am reassured that he is breathing. But the breath itself is so fragile. It scares me– the fragility of the breath, the fine line between breathing and the cessation of breath.
I prowl the house. Through the bathroom skylight the stars beam brightly, offset by the shining, silver sliver of moonlight. It will be a clear day tomorrow. But it is already tomorrow. It is so still my ears hum. My husband, who knows so many interesting things, tells me the humming I hear is the sound of the nervous system. Our bodies hold such mystery.
I look out the window, now hearing my neighbor’s dogs barking quietly. I look for coyote thinking that is what they are barking at, but see nothing. The moonlit grass on the lawn is an expanse of white, looking almost as if it had snowed, and the water in the marsh sparkles spangles of moonlight. The deep woods behind are pitch dark, the home of many a creature. Nothing stirs. It is too early for the birds. The house across the way is always dark; it is up for sale. And in the other direction, at this hour, no light shines in the driveway of the house down the road.
I am reminded of a line from a poem by Tagore “Faith is the bird that feels the light when the dawn is still dark.” I am at my most faithless at 3 AM.
Along with the supreme beauty of Tagore’s thoughts, a frivolous line from an old song runs through my head, like a commercial ruining a masterpiece of film: “There ought to be a moonlight savings time…” and the line continues “so there would be more time for loving” or some such drivel—perhaps meant for the piquant ting of a new fling.
I check email and surf the web to try to dispel the feeling of aloneness but it merely accentuates it. Finally, chilled, I go back to bed. An owl hoots in the distance– a reassuring sound. My husband is breathing freely now. His body is warm in the bed and I am filled to the brim with love for him as he lays in a heap, so trustingly in the arms of sleep. Our marriage is an unlikely and unexpected wonder. A seemingly endless source of ever-increasing love. A double-edged sword, for with that love comes the terror of its loss. Death can come in an instant, at any time. We live our lives in daily denial of how vulnerable and powerless we all are.
Perhaps the only control we have is over our own thoughts. I score low in that department. Perhaps all wives check their husbands for breathing. Perhaps there is an army of women out there prowling the wee hours of the night, at times by moonlight, checking on their husbands, their children, their animals to see that they all have that breath of life still flowing.
“There ought to be a moonlight savings time…” I thank God, at such times, there is not.