I await the dawn
rigid with anxiety
each minute an hour
as you sleep beside me
lost in the land of Morpheus.
I cannot rest,
try talking to God
cannot hear Him.
Where is He?
No Presence felt
inside my icy heart.
Do the birds wait
like me, in despair,
for that first magenta burst
of the high and mighty sun?
Then when the first light comes
you awaken and bring tea,
I put my hand on your back
to bless you with Reiki,
as we lounge together drinking warmth.
And I feel God’s presence
and I feel joy and peace and love,
all snug in bed with you and God…
It is for these few special moments
Heavenly bird song
Coming from under my AC
In the torrid heat of the city
Who are you singing to
Such sweet sounds
Like balm to the soul
Are you sent by God
As a messenger
Of the Divine
A stained glass
Portrait of divine color
Before my eyes
Oh, gentle creature
How do you survive
In the harsh life
Of the city?
Thank you for
A few minutes
Coming to rest
On my fire escape
to the song
of a red-winged blackbird
singing to the moon
as a cloud
in the approach
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.
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.
It is an overcast day. Brightly colored birds stand out like jewels in the greyness. The sparrows blend into the wooded grey/brown of snow-covered shrubs. The ever-present sparrows and the winter birds– jays and cardinals, juncos, black-capped chickadees, white-breasted nuthatches and downy woodpeckers– flock to the bird feeder which now has to be filled up almost every day. The red berries on the bushes are nearly all gone and the feeder is becoming a matter of survival. On our walks we see empty nests held in the bare arms of winter trees. An empty robin’s nest is filled with snow– the hatchlings and the mother long gone to fairer climes. The trees are stripped down to their souls. With ice storms they become tinkling chandeliers. In the rain the few remaining dead leaves drip drops of icy tears.
Occasionally a dove visits the feeder. The chipmunk, who gathered scattered seeds under the feeder all fall, is not to be seen. He must be in torpor in his den. According to Bernd Heinrich in: The Winter World: the Ingenuity of Animal Survival, the eastern chipmunk builds a twelve-foot storage system with a nest chamber some three feet down and a network of tunnels which includes a food storage chamber. Heinrich says chipmunks go in and out of torpor. He reasons that they would not gather food if they were to be in torpor all winter long. We will probably not see our chipmunk for the rest of the winter for, in his stuporous state, he would be easy prey. However he can be roused to eat and venture outdoors if need be, especially in March when there still may be snow on the ground but mating season begins.
The grey squirrels are busy clearing snow from branches as they run along tree limbs. On the ground they dig through the snow for the walnuts we watched them bury in the ground with their noses this fall. They do not need to hibernate for they have food stores which they built up in the autumn– and leafy, well-insulated nests. The red squirrels survive winter by putting on thick, insulating fur.
The back yard is a maze of tunnels. We think they are deer mouse tunnels as many have tunneled their way into our house. But they must get by the feral cat who sometimes waits out a snow storm under our deck. In the woods, the occasional deer waits out the same storm under a squat fir tree. The tracks in the snow tell the story of how they weathered a Nor’Easter.
Beneath the tracks in the snow, in the frozen leaf litter, the insect world is dormant. Some hibernate. Others fill their bodies with antifreeze, glycerol, to stay alive. Heinrich talks about woolly bears hibernating but they are also capable of freezing solid and surviving, coming to life again as they thaw in the spring. The pupae, however, don’t survive being frozen.
In Winter: an Ecological Handbook, authors, James C. Halfpenny, Elizabeth Besiot and Roy Douglas Ozonne, tell us that the reptiles and amphibians pick out a “microclimate for hibernation that does not freeze” for their winter, such as the “bottoms of ponds, streams, or deep in the ground.”
Our stream flows out back in the marsh under ice and snow and one can see the elongated bubbles of running water. In the pond next door the turtles lay beneath the ice in their hibernacula. At the end of the book, The Year of the Turtle, David M. Carroll, the naturalist, author and artist, has his watercolor of a spotted turtle hibernating. This picture is hypnotic and in its spell, I think of all the animals hibernating beneath our feet in lugubrious gloom. It reminds me of the penguins in the film, The March of the Penguins, huddled together for warmth in the harsh, strong winds and snow, taking turns being on the outside of the huddle. Winter can be magnificent in its transformations yet tragic in its harshness. Hibernating animals who freeze to death and deer starving in the snow are among the victims of its violence.
Carroll’s drawing shows the turtle all alone, withdrawn into its shell under less than two feet of water, lodged firmly in the mud under ice and under snow on a sunny winter’s day, a far better clime than the penguin’s– and yet it evokes a certain sadness for this little creature all alone beneath the snow, in a torpid state. The turtle is missing out on the days and nights, sleeping a deep sleep in a “half year of stillness.”
Carroll’s writing is sheer poetry as he describes the turtle’s hibernation: “Mounting layers of snow silently cover the ice. Night after night in the harshest depth of winter, as Orion and the Pleiades burn distant and brilliant in the black sky and strong winds howl off the mountain to the northwest, the turtles rest beneath the ice. With the life in them nearly suspended, reduced to its most tenuous hold, all but extinct in the vast, inhospitable regime that reaches above them to the limits of the universe, they lie within their shells, waiting for the earth to make its required turnings and return them to the sun that will awaken them to another season.”
I think of the turtles below, along with all the other beautiful creatures, and wish them a kind sleep from which they will safely stir as the life force surges through their veins again when the sun brings them to the fullness of life in spring. The death of some, and the half-life of so many, proffers the poignancy of winter.
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.