deer tidings

white-tailed yearling by Greg Thompson

Once upon a time I was as curious as the yearling above, and in possession of a keen sense of wonder. The mysteries of nature and spirit were intertwined in my young mind. One early wordless memory I have is of lying on the cold winter ground in the woods and eyeing a little princess pine peeking through the snow. I was astonished at the connection I felt to the small precious life, and how thrilled I was to be aware of its presence!

My parents and grandparents were nature lovers, but from an early age I was locking horns with my scientifically minded father over the existence of the supernatural. It distressed me to no end that he refused to believe in anything that he could not measure in physical terms.

One afternoon when I was six years old I had a dazzling moment of transcendence when I encountered a stag, although I didn’t know enough to call it that when I later tried to tell my parents about it. As I was walking alone up the heavily wooded road from the school bus stop to my house, I strongly sensed that someone was watching me. When I turned around to look I was at first startled to see a huge stag with magnificent antlers. He was standing in the road, quietly staring at me, as if he recognized me, as if he knew exactly who I was. I was struck with awe. Completely enchanted, I was not at all frightened. In fact, I decided he was my guardian angel. A fatherly figure. Something about his presence was most reassuring. I never forgot him and have often felt his presence in my life, especially when spending time with my maternal grandfather in the years to come.

white-tailed buck at Parker River National Wildlife Refuge

Forty-five years later, a few years after my grandfather died, I had wonderful encounter with another deer. (Some of my readers may remember me sharing this in November 2008 on my Gaia blog.) I was visiting my father at his house in the woods, where spotting deer, coyotes, wild turkeys and fishers is not at all unusual. We were starting to watch a movie when my brother-in-law glanced out the window and noticed a doe in the yard, quite close to the house. Being so enchanted with deer I jumped at the chance to see one and went over to the window to look at her.

She was so beautiful with her large soft eyes and large ears lined in dark brown. Our eyes met and she stood there transfixed for a very long time. I could not take my eyes off of her. After a while she lay down and continued to stare at me, occasionally looking about to see what a noise might be, but then fixing her gaze back onto me. She seemed so peaceful and I wondered what, if anything, it all meant. It was as if I had lost my child’s sense of inner-knowing for a moment. Then I started to worry that my looking at her so intently might be threatening her in some way. But she was tranquil and serene. At one point a buck appeared and walked right past her and started helping himself to my father’s rhododendron. My brother-in-law was going to go shoo him away but I begged him not to. After the buck had enough to eat he slowly retraced his steps and passed by the doe again, glancing at her but unconcerned with her behavior. She ignored him completely, and kept looking at me.

white-tailed doe by Steve Hillebrand

After another long while she stood up and started nibbling at the ground, looking at me once in a while. She slowly made her way downhill around the corner of the house, so I changed my vantage point to another window on that side of the house. She was now one story below me. But she looked up to the window and saw me again and started looking at me again with the same intensity as before. Her look felt so reassuring in some way and yet I felt the thrill of butterflies in my stomach. It’s hard to put words to it. She definitely seemed to know me. It was getting darker and darker until I could barely see her, and just at the point where I felt I could see her no longer she suddenly darted away. More than an hour had passed. What an amazing gift! Even my father had to acknowledge this was an extraordinary experience.

I did finally understand the doe’s message with some help from my Reiki practitioner a few months later. I’m keeping it safe in my heart for now. I will never forget this special doe and had so often felt her guidance while caring for my father in his declining years, as well as my mother’s presence, very strongly, in my life. And it was after the doe visited the house that my father, the skeptical scientist, started reporting that he had been seeing my mother. Sometimes he would ask where she was because he was certain she had just left the room.

white-tailed doe by Greg Thompson

Fifty years after my first encounter with a deer, when I was fifty-six, my father died in his sleep in the early morning hours of September 19, 2013, under a full harvest moon. My sister called me to let me know he was gone so Tim and I left to drive up to Papa’s house to be with our family. As we reached the end of the hour-long drive, we turned onto the same road where I saw my first deer fifty years ago. In about the same spot on the road, standing quietly on the side, in the moonlight, was a lovely doe. Tim slowed the car down and she looked right into our car, into my eyes. My mother was letting me know that she had my father now. What a feeling of relief and release came over me.

Beverly and I have often noted in the months since Papa died that neither of us have felt the presence of either of our parents. But Larisa has felt her grandpa’s presence down in North Carolina. And we all see in her new baby daughter, Katie, a remarkable resemblance to him, especially in her facial expressions and the way she moves her long arms.

As I continue to mourn the loss of my father I feel like I’ve grown to a place where I can embrace being in the elder generation now, a contented crone with my fair share of hard-won wisdom to gently share with my children and grandchildren. It’s a feeling of strength, stepping into the place where my parents and my grandparents once stood.

junco-dec06
junco ~ image credit: mike at luminosity.allthepages.org

A couple of weeks I put out a couple of bird feeders and have enjoyed watching the birds who come to eat. My parents and grandparents were avid bird-watchers but I thought identifying birds was a tedious endeavor when I was a child. However, these past few days I’ve been amazed to discover that some of what they taught me got stored in my memory files. It seems like every time a new bird shows up a name pops into my head, so I look it up and find it to be correct! I’ve always loved and could identify chickadees, but when an unfamiliar bird showed up the other day and “junco” popped out of my mouth, well, I’ve fallen in love with another little one.

I almost posted the first parts of my deer story several times since I started this blog, but something kept holding me back. After I saw the doe the night my father died it became clear that the tale had not been finished. Yet something still kept making it seem like it wasn’t the time to share it. After spending three weeks with my darling new granddaughter, though, it feels like the whole picture has now been revealed.

White-Tailed Deer

wisps of memory

7.24.92.NinaPintaSantaMaria
Nina, Pinta or Santa Maria (?) replicas ~ 7.24.92 ~ New London, Connecticut

The other day I was reading my spring/summer issue of Mystic Seaport Magazine, anticipation growing with every article read for the upcoming 38th voyage of the Charles W. Morgan on May 17. The last wooden whaleship in the world, newly restored, will be embarking on a voyage to several historic ports on the New England coast, from New London to Boston. It will be a thrill to photograph her as she sails past us here in Groton on her way from Mystic Seaport to the port of New London!!! She hasn’t been sailed in 90 years and she will have no motor.

As I was contemplating this wonder a couple of fuzzy memories started trying to emerge from my stress-weary brain. My father and me on a wooden walkway surrounding a ship which was being restored (was it the Amistad?) in the Henry B. duPont Preservation Shipyard at Mystic Seaport. A barrel of shavings and chips from the work on the ship. A sign inviting us to take a piece of wood home as a souvenir. I am struggling to remember, what ship, what year, if anyone else was with us…

7.24.92.Papa-s
7.24.92 ~ Papa

My father was a son of Ukrainian immigrants who had been peasants in their native land. Owning their own land here in America was extremely important to my grandparents and my father grew up with that same strong conviction. So much so that he was utterly baffled when Tim & I decided to buy a condo near the sea instead of a home on a piece of property.

Yet he honored the deep ties to the sea my mother and her ancestors had, keeping alive an interest in seafaring history even after she died. This is another facet of my father’s legacy which I’m now coming to appreciate. Not long after my mother died he took me over to the Mystic Seaport membership building and requested that I be allowed on his membership in place of my mother, so I could bring my children there. Since my parents had been life-long members, I think they bent the rules a little and allowed him to do this.

7.24.92.Jon-s
Jon, age 14 ~ 7.24.92

I think it must have been in the 1990s when we each took home a piece of that ship’s wood. He was still getting out and about before his fall in 2000. And it was after my mother died in 1991. Oh why can’t I remember more details?

7.24.92.Larisa-s
Larisa, age 11 ~ 7.24.92

A search through a 1992 photo album renews another vague nautical memory. There is my Papa, taking his grandchildren to tour the replicas of Columbus’ ships, the NinaPinta & Santa Maria when they sailed into New London’s harbor on July 24, 1992, honoring the 500th anniversary of the historic voyage. Where is the third grandchild, though? Was he camera-shy or did he have other plans that day?

Well, for what it’s worth, I leave my wisps of memory here for future generations who might find it all of some interest.

7.24.92.JonLarisa-s
Jon and Larisa ~ 7.24.92

one held breath

okapi.pintrest
Okapi ~ image found on Pintrest

She is inhumanly alone. And then, all at once, she isn’t. A beautiful animal stands on the other side of the water. They look up from their lives, woman and animal, amazed to find themselves in the the same place. He freezes, inspecting her with his black-tipped ears. His back is purplish-brown in the dim light, sloping downward from the gentle hump of his shoulders. The forest’s shadows fall into lines across his white-striped flanks. His stiff forelegs splay out to the sides like stilts, for he’s been caught in the act of reaching down for water. Without taking his eyes from her, he twitches a little at the knee, then the shoulder, where a fly devils him. Finally he surrenders his surprise, looks away, and drinks. She can feel the touch of his long, curled tongue on the water’s skin, as if he were lapping from her hand. His head bobs gently, nodding small, velvet horns lit white from behind like new leaves.

It lasted just a moment, whatever that is. One held breath? An ant’s afternoon? It was brief, I can promise that much, for although it’s been many years now since my children ruled my life, a mother recalls the measure of the silences. I never had more than five minutes’ peace unbroken. I was that woman on the stream bank, of course, Orleanna Price, Southern Baptist by marriage, mother of children living and dead. That one time and no other the okapi came to the stream, and I was the only one to see it.

~ Barbara Kingsolver
(The Poisonwood Bible)

When I stumbled across this picture of an okapi on Pintrest it brought to memory this passage In Barbara Kingsolver’s amazing book, The Poisonwood Bible. It stuck with me because I had a similar experience with a stag when I was little, a moment of transcendence, when time seemed to stand still for this six-year-old.

I was introduced to Barbara Kingsolver’s writing by a physical therapist who was coming to the house regularly to work with my dad. One morning the three of us were sitting around the table, waiting for Papa to finish eating his late breakfast. Her name was Betty-Jean, which reminded us of my mother, who was called Betty-Jo by her parents. We fell into a conversation about my mother’s love of nature and Native American culture.

Papa mentioned a visit he and my mother had made to the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe on Cape Cod, and that he had inadvertently offended a young man when he “stepped into his circle.” I wasn’t sure what he meant and he had trouble trying to explain it to me. Betty-Jean thought perhaps it had something to do with a vision quest. “What’s a vision quest?” I inquired, full of curiosity.

The conversation meandered around for a bit after that, but before Betty-Jean began her session with my father, she asked me if I was familiar with Barbara Kingsolver. I had never heard of her until then, so she said she thought I would like her book, Animal Dreams. I ordered it as soon as I got home that night and have been devouring her books ever since. They way she weaves spiritual journeys with nature resonates with me deeply.

dragonfly tidings

10.17.13 ~ Harwich Center, Massachusetts
dragonfly magic ~ 10.17.13 ~ Harwich Center, Massachusetts

On our mother’s birthday, October 17th, my sister Beverly and I went early to the cemetery in Harwich for some time alone with our parents and our memories, bringing along Papa’s ashes in a nature-inspired wooden casket. After we placed some flowers around the gravestones of our parents and grandparents, a small red dragonfly landed on our parents’ stone. Its presence was a special gift…

10.17.13 ~ Harwich Center, Massachusetts
more dragonfly magic ~ 10.17.13 ~ Harwich Center, Massachusetts

A little later, as we were remembering our grandparents, the dragonfly flew over to perch on their gravestone, too, just above the “E” in White.  And there was another special moment after the rest of the family started arriving. A small red dragonfly landed on my brother-in-law’s shoulder and stayed there for a long while. John was the one who was Papa’s primary caregiver for all these years, and it was good to have him appreciated and acknowledged in this meaningful way. I like to think it was the same dragonfly, but can’t know for sure…

10.17.13 ~ Harwich Center, Massachusetts
10.17.13 ~ Harwich Center, Massachusetts

When we had all gathered around in a circle, Tim read my little essay about my father – I knew I couldn’t read it without sobbing – and then my cousin Matthew read messages from his father (my uncle) and his sister (my cousin). And then everyone began sharing their own memories. After that, Beverly lowered the casket full of Papa’s ashes deep into the ground, and then most of us took turns shoveling the earth back over him. It was a beautiful autumn day and our little ceremony felt so natural and intimate.

10.17.13 ~ Harwich Center, Massachusetts
returned to the earth ~ 10.17.13 ~ Harwich Center, Massachusetts

Our parents are together now. The next thing I knew, everyone – there were 14 of us – wanted to go to another cemetery in Dennis, to see where our great-grandparents and two generations before them lie buried. (Swan Lake Cemetery) It was quite something to show my granddaughter the graves of her 5th-great-grandparents, who were immigrants from Norway and Ireland, and tell her how they met here in America and raised their family on Cape Cod, and how he was a sea-captain…

10.17.13 ~ Harwich, Massachusetts
favorite things, Papa was very fond of this baby lynx picture in his last years, we kept it hanging on the wall in his bedroom ~ 10.17.13 ~ Harwich, Massachusetts

After that little expedition we all made our way over to Yarmouth to eat at the Hearth ‘n’ Kettle, a favorite restaurant of the family. We toasted those who came before us with Cape Codders (vodka, cranberry juice, lime wedge) and enjoyed a delicious leisurely dinner. And then we returned to our rented house and had my parents’ favorite birthday cakes as we gathered around the spacious dining room table – lemon jello cake in honor of my mother and chocolate butter-cream in honor of my father.

10.17.13 ~ Harwich, Massachusetts
10.17.13 ~ Harwich, Massachusetts

In the evening we piled into the living room and watched a football game while shelling and munching on peanuts, and drinking Papa’s favorite beer. It was my kids’ idea – they have fond memories of shelling peanuts with their Grandpa while he was watching football on TV. It was good to be with family – sharing memories together – some of us had not seen each other in a very long time.

Whenever we were at a funeral, for people or pets, ever since I was a little girl, my father always advised us to remember the good times. And so we did.

crossing the bridge

2001 ~ Storrs, Connecticut
Papa walking on his path in the woods ~ 2001 ~ Storrs, Connecticut

As many of you already know, my father died peacefully at home, in his sleep, on September 19. I’m still in a daze and it still seems like a dream. When I finally got to bed after he died, I started thinking it would be nice to have a memorial for him on my mother’s birthday, October 17, at the cemetery where his ashes will be buried next to hers. The next morning my sister called me and said she hoped I would like her idea, and her idea turned out to be the exact same idea that I had. So it was settled.

2001 ~ Storrs, Connecticut
2001 ~ Storrs, Connecticut

When we were little we always went to visit our beloved grandparents on Cape Cod for our mother’s birthday. So we are both looking forward to one last trip up there with Papa, bringing his ashes in a beautiful biodegradable wooden box my sister found for him. The gravedigger will have the earth ready for him before we arrive and we will all stand in a circle and say whatever we want to say before we lay him to rest. I’ve never planned a funeral or memorial before, and I’ve never been an executrix before, either. For some reason the planning is comforting.

2001 ~ Storrs, Connecticut
2001 ~ Storrs, Connecticut

We’re renting a large house nearby. Even though it was closed for the season the owner has kindly opened it up for this special occasion. When the owner sent an email to confirm the days, he wrote, “We should be ready for you to check in anytime after 1:00, but give us a call when you cross the bridge and we will meet you at the house.” When I read this it made me cry. All Cape Codders and all of us who love the Cape know what “when you cross the bridge” means. And the funny thing is there are two bridges crossing the Cape Cod Canal, and either one will do.

1953 ~ Montville, Connecticut
Bachelor of Arts in Bacteriology ~ 1953 ~ Montville, Connecticut

The first three pictures were taken by me in 2001. In 2000 my father fell and crushed several vertebrae. He was in the hospital for a while and needed to use his cane afterwards. Papa had made a trail meandering through the woods on his property and he maintained it while taking his daily walks. Walking through the woods with him countless times is a memory I will always treasure. He would use his cane as a pointer as he identified various nuts, leaves, wildflowers or the entrance to an animal’s den. Or he would point it up into the tree canopy when he heard a familiar bird call. The cane was carved and used by his father and now I have it for safekeeping.

1983 ~ ?
Easter, 1983, my parents

Sadly, in 2007 Papa fell again, this time breaking his femur and his pelvis. He never made a good recovery from that unfortunate accident. There were no more walks in the woods. He was mostly in a wheelchair after that and suffered from dementia. The last six years have been so difficult for all of us, but especially for him. When I found these pictures taken at an earlier, happier time, they helped me to overlay the recent memories with more pleasant ones.

September 1985 ~ ?
Labor Day, 1985, my parents with three of my aunts

Many thanks to our Aunt Em, who came up to visit us from Maryland last weekend, and to visit Aunt Lil, too, who seems to be doing as well as can be expected in the nursing home. Aunt Em brought and gave us some of her pictures – the last three are from her.

Papa

Under a full harvest moon, my father drew his last breaths. How fitting for a man who grew up on a farm and who loved his garden. The scientist died peacefully, in his sleep, in the house he and my mother built for themselves and my sister and me. It was how he wished to die, and we are thankful it happened that way. Farewell, dearest Papa. I love you.

effulgent

8.27.13 ~ Durham, North Carolina
dragonfly ~ 8.27.13 ~ Durham, North Carolina

Is it a mistake to look to the world to tell us the meaning of our plummeting lives? Maybe we all have the power to shape our own structure, the structure of our metaphoric wings, what lifts us — our character maybe, call it our spirit. We all in our own ways catch the light of the world and reflect it back, and this is what is bright and surprising about a person, this rainbow shimmer created from colorless structure. Maybe there is no meaning in the world itself – no sorrow. In fact, no good or bad, beginning or end. Maybe what there is, is the individual way each of us has of transforming the world, ways to refract it, to create of it something that shimmers from our spread wings. This is our work, creating these wings and giving them color.
~ Kathleen Dean Moore
(Wild Comfort: The Solace of Nature)

Time seems to fly by so quickly, and yet, each day seems so long in the living. Especially in August. Please! One crisis at a time!!!

8.27.13 ~ Durham, North Carolina
8.27.13 ~ Durham, North Carolina

Near the end of August my sister and I finally and reluctantly decided that our aunt, who is 98, required more care than we could reasonably provide for her. The family doctor pulled some strings and found her a place in a “good” nursing home, much to our relief. She is now “settled in” there.

Our father, who is 91, is doing a little better, but is still on oxygen and remains very weak. So far my sister and brother-in-law feel they can manage him at home. He will probably never walk again, even with his walker… But I have to keep a watchful eye on my sister’s well-being – she has done more for the ancient ones than most people, including myself, would have or could have done.

8.31.13 ~ Durham, North Carolina
8.27.13 ~ Durham, North Carolina

At the end of the month I spread my wings and accepted my daughter’s invitation to fly to North Carolina to visit her and my son-in-law in their new digs. It was the first time I flew by myself, although I had a flash of insight on the plane – I wasn’t flying by myself at all – there were many other people on board, fellow humans all with their own ways of transforming the world. All of us one. The flights there and back were spiritual highs for me!

8.27.13 ~ Durham, North Carolina
Larisa at Sarah P. Duke Gardens ~ 8.27.13 ~ Durham, North Carolina

Visiting Dima & Larisa for five days was wonderful! Very humid weather put something of a damper on outdoor adventures, but we had fun gardening in the early morning hours and decorating the living room and kitchen together one fun afternoon. We explored Durham in the air-conditioned car and talked and talked and talked. And had some great meals out and even better meals from their kitchen and grill. Had loads of fun taking pictures! I also came home with a lot of spider and mosquito bites for souvenirs. 🙂

8.31.13 ~ Durham, North Carolina
tropical quail (?), Magic Wings Butterfly House at the Museum of Life & Science ~ 8.31.13 ~ Durham, North Carolina

The trip did me a world of good – thank you so much for your gracious hospitality and welcoming arms, my wonderful kids!

8.31.13 ~ Durham, North Carolina
8.31.13 ~ Durham, North Carolina

indian pipes

8.10.13 ~ Storrs, Connecticut
8.10.13 ~ Storrs, Connecticut

That without suspecting it you should send me the preferred flower of life, seems almost supernatural, and the sweet glee that I felt at meeting it, I could confide to none. I still cherish the clutch with which I bore it from the ground when a wondering Child, an unearthly booty, and maturity only enhances the mystery, never decreases it.
~ Emily Dickinson
(Letter to Mabel Loomis Todd, September 1882)

“The preferred flower of life” Emily is referring to is the Indian pipe, a ghostly flower with no chlorophyll. Like Emily, I was captivated by Indian pipes as a child, whenever I found them while playing in the woods. Native to New England, the flowers are about 3/4 of an inch long, and bloom from June to September. In one of her poems, Emily compares it to a spirit: “‘Tis whiter than an Indian Pipe –” (#1513)

My father has been in the hospital this month with a pulmonary embolism, a blood clot in his lung. He is too old (91) and too frail to tolerate a treatment with clot busters, so the doctor is opting for a conservative treatment with blood thinners. Time will tell if this will be helpful or not. Now that he is home he is hooked up to oxygen around the clock. It’s been a very stressful time for all of us, and I’ve spent many hours at Dad’s bedside, leaving Tim here to cope with his terminally ill brother, Toby.

These Indian pipes were growing near Dad’s house in the woods, and the sight of them stirred up some pleasant childhood memories for me. I put the camera on the ground for this shot and was delighted with the results! A bug’s eye view!

Grandmother Elm

5.14.13.5401
5.14.13 ~ Stonington, Connecticut

Finally, some leaves have appeared on my tree! I think it is an elm tree.

5.14.13.5396
5.14.13 ~ Stonington, Connecticut

My grandparents had an elm tree on the northwest corner of their house lot. Its branches and leaves could almost be touched when looking out the window of the green bedroom, feeling like the leaf canopy of this elm in the above picture.

5.14.13.5403
5.14.13 ~ Stonington, Connecticut

Knowing trees, I understand the meaning of patience.
~ Hal Borland
(Countryman: A Summary of Belief)

5.13.13.5384
Zoë ~ 5.13.13
5.14.13.5439
flag flying outside our fish market today ~ 5.14.13 ~ Groton, Connecticut

Toby went into the hospital for cancer surgery five days ago, and will probably be staying there for another week or so. The day he went into the hospital I had to go up to my father’s house for a few days to help out with the ancient ones. Chelsea had some time off so my aunt Em from Maryland came up and she and I tried our best to fill Chelsea’s shoes! It’s good to be back home now and slip into a more “normal” routine again, at least for a little while.

Up at my dad’s it was so quiet without Bernie around, but I was able to get outside for a short walk and take a few pictures. Later, while sitting on the porch watching birds with Dad, I experimented with the telescopic lens and got a fairly decent picture of a nuthatch (below), if a little blurry! But next time I think I will use the sports setting with the auto-shoot feature. It worked so well today with the flag picture this morning (above), which was whipping in the wind.  Enjoy!

5.10.13.5328
a nuthatch ~ 5.10.13 ~ Storrs, Connecticut
5.10.13.5232
pansies for Bernie ~ 5.10.13 ~ Storrs, Connecticut
5.10.13.5236
branch shadows playing with the roots of my hemlock tree ~ 5.10.13 ~ Storrs, Connecticut
5.10.13.5237
trillium ~ 5.10.13 ~ Storrs, Connecticut
5.10.13.5258
garden steps ~ 5.10.13 ~ Storrs, Connecticut
5.10.13.5263
primrose ~ 5.10.13 ~ Storrs, Connecticut
5.10.13.5275
life and death on a maple leaf, spider eating a lady bug ~ 5.10.13 ~ Storrs, Connecticut
5.10.13.5287
garden whimsy ~ 5.10.13 ~ Storrs, Connecticut