Not the greatest pictures I’ve ever taken, but I was thrilled to see more birds than usual on this winter walk. Interesting that we didn’t encounter another human being on this day. Maybe everyone is shopping for the holidays. Not us! It was a sunny day with light westerly winds, a relatively comfortable 44°F/7°C with a feels-like temperature of 39°F/4°C. Connecticut’s positivity rate yesterday was 8.16%.
The Brain — is wider than the Sky — For — put them side by side — The one the other will contain With ease — and You — beside — ~ Emily Dickinson (The Poems of Emily Dickinson, #598)
Inside their skulls, the sophistication of the neural capacity of black-capped chickadees increases in autumn. The part of the brain that stores spatial information gets larger and more complex, allowing the birds to remember the locations of the seeds and insects that they cache under bark and in clusters of lichen. The superior memory of the birds that I hear in the tips of the fir tree is a neuronal preparation for the hungry days of late autumn and winter. The seat of spatial memory in the brains of chickadees that live in these northern forests is particularly voluminous and densely wired. Natural selection has worked winter into the birds’ heads, molding the brains so that chickadees can survive even when food is scarce.Chickadee memories also live within societal relationships. The birds are keen observers of their flockmates. If one bird should happen on a novel way of finding or processing food, others will learn from what they see. Once acquired, the memory no longer depends on the life of any individual. The memory passes through the generations, living in the social network. ~ David George Haskell (The Songs of Trees: Stories from Nature’s Great Connectors)
Chickadees were probably the first birds I became aware of when I was a little girl. They frequented my mother’s birdfeeder which was right outside our dining room window. (Our tiny Cape Cod style house didn’t have a breakfast room or eat-in kitchen.) I still remember eating my breakfast at the table in the winter and the cold blast of air that made me shiver when Mom opened the window to spread more seeds out onto the protected platform.
I remember playing out in the snowy winter woods with the chickadee fee-bee song playing in the background. And the well known chickadee-dee-dee alarm call. My father taught me to recognize their warning call, which I often hear out of the blue on our walks in the woods these days. My guess is we might be entering someone’s territory so we respectfully move on quickly.
For many winters now we’ve been hanging a suet feeder on our condo balcony to attract the woodpeckers I also love. Chickadees hang around and glean the seeds that fall out of the suet while the woodpeckers are feeding. Unfortunately starlings have figured out how to hang onto the suet feeder and they wreak havoc with their large numbers. Why can’t they come one or two at a time like the woodpeckers and chickadees? We also welcome a fair number of titmice, nuthatches and juncos.
Every winter our neighbor complains that the birds poop on his balcony. For this winter I had planned to not put out the suet feeder in the interest of being neighborly but, unbeknownst to me, my thoughtful husband bought a few months worth of suet cakes he found on sale. A woodpecker already came by the other day and was hanging onto the sliding glass door screen, inquiring within about the missing feeder, no doubt. And the chickadees have also been checking out the balcony, it seems to be much earlier than usual this year. I used to put the feeder out mid-October, after Columbus Day. But the fall colors have arrived two weeks early; perhaps the birds are ahead of schedule, too.
Because our neighbor goes out on his balcony to smoke a cigar and the unpleasant fumes come into our unit even when the windows are shut, we’ve mostly ignored his complaints about our bird feeding. Tit for tat. I have a funny feeling my resolve to not feed the birds this winter is crumbling. Watching them brings me so much joy in the winter! Maybe just one more winter, since we are in quarantine? I’m going around in circles weighing the pros and cons… I have to decide now!!!
Wish the bird feeding quandary was the worst of my worries. Connecticut College now has 24 students in quarantine, a cluster of 4 positive cases and their friends. One of the students was in my sister’s class a week ago. All her classes are outdoors and all her students are wearing masks, still, I worry about her safety. It’s a grim feeling, the virus keeps coming closer and closer…
And now our reckless president has tested positive for COVID-19.
Not all the features of atypical human operating systems are bugs. By autistic standards, the “normal” brain is easily distractible, is obsessively social, and suffers from a deficit of attention to detail and routine. Thus people on the spectrum experience the neurotypical world as relentlessly unpredictable and chaotic, perpetually turned up too loud, and full of people who have little respect for personal space. ~ Steve Silberman (NeuroTribes: The Legacy of Autism & The Future of Neurodiversity)
A major source of anxiety for me is any sudden change of plans. Over the years I’ve learned from observation that other people don’t see these as the catastrophes I experience and have at times concluded that there is something terribly wrong with me. Or then I think something is wrong with others, that they’re rude not to stick to a plan. I’ve spent countless hours giving myself pep talks about learning to be flexible and learning to go with the flow. When a change of plans pops into my day I have a hard time telling if it is a reasonable response to an unanticipated development or if it is just someone else’s whim. It doesn’t matter. Either way, I force myself to accept the change and exhaust myself repressing the panic I feel, trying to be “normal.”
[Lewis] Carroll’s transitions from chapter to chapter are abrupt and unexpected. Alice is rushed from one scene to the next without any opportunity to stop and process what she has just experienced, or to prepare herself mentally for what’s to come. This kind of abrupt time change, without transition, is similar to how a day at school feels to a child with AS. There is no flashback, no foreshadowing: since there is only the immediate moment, shifts in time and place are disconcerting and stressful. Carroll captures this feeling of urgency and panic very well. ~ Julie Brown (Writers on the Spectrum: How Autism & Asperger’s Syndrome Have Influenced Literary Writing)
I have a very poor sense of time and an “unreasonable” fear of being late. When I know I have an appointment I rush around checking the clock all day, much like the White Rabbit in Alice in Wonderland, and cannot manage to do anything else. It seems like such a waste of time, but I cannot help it. Inevitably I leave the house too early. I watch in wonder and awe as others effortlessly multi-task and juggle appointments and chores in the course of a day. But to me it’s too overwhelming and confusing!
When surprised by the doorbell or the phone ringing I experience an adrenaline rush. I’ve worked hard over the years to not startle or gasp when that happens. Similarly, it is difficult to keep myself together when hearing a horn or a siren while out driving. On the other hand, I love the soothing sounds of foghorns and buoy bells, one of the comforts of living by the sea.
It’s interesting to me that I accept other sorts of change with far more grace, the change of seasons, the stages of life, evolution, or lifestyle changes. Knowing that nothing stays the same or lasts forever makes it easy for me to do things like let go of clutter or keepsakes and accept that children grow up and move away. Perhaps because these changes are more predictable and expected.
And it’s a disquieting thought that not even the past is done with, even that continues to change, as if in reality there is only one time, for everything, one time for every purpose under heaven. One single second, one single landscape, in which what happens activates and deactivates what has already happened in endless chain reactions, like the processes that take place in the brain, perhaps, where cells suddenly bloom and die away, all according to the way the winds of consciousness are blowing. ~ Karl Ove Knausgård (A Time for Everything)
Not too long ago thousands spent their lives as recluses to find spiritual vision in the solitude of nature. Modern man need not become a hermit to achieve this goal, for it is neither ecstasy nor world-estranged mysticism his era demands, but a balance between quantitative and qualitative reality. Modern man, with his reduced capacity for intuitive perception, is unlikely to benefit from the contemplative life of a hermit in the wilderness. But what he can do is to give undivided attention, at times, to a natural phenomenon, observing it in detail, and recalling all the scientific facts about it he may remember. Gradually, however, he must silence his thoughts and, for moments at least, forget all his personal cares and desires, until nothing remains in his soul but awe for the miracle before him. Such efforts are like journeys beyond the boundaries of narrow self-love and, although the process of intuitive awakening is laborious and slow, its rewards are noticeable from the very first. If pursued through the course of years, something will begin to stir in the human soul, a sense of kinship with the forces of life consciousness which rule the world of plants and animals, and with the powers which determine the laws of matter. While analytical intellect may well be called the most precious fruit of the Modern Age, it must not be allowed to rule supreme in matters of cognition. If science is to bring happiness and real progress to the world, it needs the warmth of man’s heart just as much as the cold inquisitiveness of his brain. ~ Franz Winkler (Man: The Bridge Between Two Worlds)
We all grow up with the weight of history on us. Our ancestors dwell in the attics of our brains as they do in the spiraling chains of knowledge hidden in every cell of our bodies. These spirits form our lives, and they may reveal themselves in mere trivialities – a quirk of speech, a way of folding a shirt. From the earliest days of my life, I encountered the past at every turn, in every season. ~ Shirley Abbott (Womenfolks: Growing Up Down South)
Early this morning I was awakened by a dream, one of those slice-of-life dreams that seems profound in some way. In the dream my father was young again, folding a pile of his fresh white t-shirts, as he used to do so meticulously on his laundry day. Padding over to the computer, I soon discovered our internet connection was down… So… I started looking through my quote collection to find one to go with the painting above, and smiled at the ‘folding a shirt’ connection to my dream.
I have the feeling I’ll be taking a leave of absence from blogging for now. Friday I had a root canal and other dental work done under conscious sedation, and the effects of the sedation didn’t wear off completely until late Saturday. Tim had some dental work done on Monday as well and both of us are still recuperating and on pain meds.
Meanwhile things have reached a crisis level with my aunt, who is 97. She now needs full-time care and seems to be declining rather quickly. She’s not eating and losing weight rapidly. Another aunt is in town and was working at finding her a place in a nursing home, but my long-suffering sister has decided that she would rather move Auntie into my father’s house so she and her husband can care for both her and Dad. Fortunately they have an appointment with an agency to get some professional in-home assistance, and an appointment with Hospice, too.
Both of Auntie’s sons predeceased her, but her granddaughter, who lives in Tennessee, is in town now as well. She doesn’t want to die alone, so the aim is to keep her surrounded by those who love her.
Nothing is here to stay Everything has to begin and end A ship in a bottle won’t sail All we can do is dream that the wind will blow us across the water A ship in a bottle set sail ~ Dave Matthews ♫ (Baby) ♫
I have been assigned the task of planning for a simple cremation by-passing the cost of and toxic chemicals used at funeral homes. This research is bringing up all kinds of emotions. On the one hand it makes sense to be ready with a plan, but the very act of planning seems cold and calculating somehow… Grave Matters: A Journey Through the Modern Funeral Industry to a Natural Way of Burial by Mark Harris has been helpful. I wish there was a natural cemetery in Connecticut, but since there isn’t, cremation seems best.
Things have changed a lot since my mother died twenty-one years ago. Online I found the Cremation Society of New England. If I understand what I’m reading correctly, one can fill out forms online and have plans in place for when the last moment has arrived. But I will have to read this over a little at a time…
I love the painting at the top of this post, “The Ages of Life.” It seems to be a stage in a play. The woman in the lower right corner makes me think of Auntie, left widowed at such a young age. And now she seems to be the black figure with the cane in the background, quietly leaving the scene.
Had Madness, had it once or twice The yawning Consciousness ~ Emily Dickinson (The Poems of Emily Dickinson, #1325)
Whenever I read an Emily Dickinson poem I am struck with a deep sense of affinity and connection, sometimes even a moment of transcendence. And yet words fail me when I try to describe what it is about each poem that moves me.
Emily Every Day is my favorite blog, written by Constance Adler. I discovered it almost a year ago, when I started poking around WordPress and following tags to see where they might lead. And while the author no longer posts every day, each post is still a treasure trove of ideas to ponder and of clues to the mystery of Emily’s consciousness.
In the January 6th post, Emily and Jeanne, Constance uses the phrase “afflicted with consciousness,” which seems a fitting description of the essence of my own spiritual journey. Even though I would never dare equate myself with Emily, so often I’ve felt that I “could not escape or ignore the experience of awareness.” It plagued me all through my childhood, as my father did his level best, but ultimately failed, to raise me to be an atheist. Awareness of awareness has driven me to “Madness” on several occasions… But, as Constance concludes:
Emily shows us how to turn and see deeply behind our own eyes. That loss of solid space/time boundaries might scare us back toward front and center. But no. It’s okay to follow Emily’s directive. She’s gone there first. We don’t have to be afraid.
And I think that is what it is for me. When I read Emily’ words I stop fearing, even if only for a little while, that journey ‘behind my own eyes.’ She’s paved a way that I can find and follow. Many thanks to Constance for helping me to gain more insight into the works of my favorite poet.
And so of larger — Darknesses — Those Evenings of the Brain — When not a Moon disclose a sign — Or Star — come out — within — ~ Emily Dickinson (The Poems of Emily Dickinson, #428)
Between Eternity and Time — Your Consciousness — and Me — ~ Emily Dickinson (The Poems of Emily Dickinson, #713)