visit from a mourning dove

4.19.20 ~ mourning dove on my balcony

Mourning doves have been visiting me off and on since my mother died twenty-eight years ago. They seem to arrive when I could use a little encouragement. When I used to garden one would often sit near me and watch me as I worked. Once one walked with me all the way from my garden to the swimming pool in our complex. Lately one comes to sit on the balcony almost daily and coos for as long as an hour at a time. I find her company very comforting.

Sunday morning I decided to try to photograph her through the sliding glass doors and was thrilled with the results. She didn’t seem to mind posing. I know they are plain birds, but that’s exactly why I find them so beautiful! I love them the same way I love my gulls.

In this sad world of ours, sorrow comes to all; and, to the young, it comes with bitterest agony, because it takes them unawares. The older have learned to ever expect it.
~ Abraham Lincoln
(Letter to Fanny McCullough, December 23, 1862)

When I first read the Lincoln quote six years ago, after my father died, I remember thinking how true it was. When my mother died I was so young it came as a terrible blow and I needed therapy to work through the grief. By the time my father died it was no longer such a shocking experience. I deeply felt the pain of loss, but it wasn’t unexpected.

We now have 36 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in our town. There are moments I feel terribly anxious about this. It’s starting to sink in that it may be be many months or even more than a year before it will be safe to visit our grandchildren again. As it stands now, I don’t think I will feel free from danger before there is a vaccine. But we are trying to make the best of it and even find a sense of humor at times.

I find myself wondering how my parents would respond to the coronavirus pandemic. I imagine they would probably be just as blindsided as the rest of humanity. But since Mother Nature sees fit to send me such a sweet comforter as this lovely mourning dove I will stay grateful.

It’s not true that life is one damn thing after another — it’s one damn thing over and over.
~ Edna St. Vincent Millay
(Letter to Arthur Davison Ficke, October 24, 1930)

4.19.20 ~ this might be my favorite pose

The Millay quote has been one of my favorites for a long time. It amuses me and helps me to laugh at the ironic situations I think I find myself in. The coronavirus pandemic feels unprecedented, and perhaps it is in my lifetime, but not at all in the history of the world.

In the trilogy Kristin Lavransdatter by Sigrid Undset, the protagonist, Kristin, dies from the Black Death at the end. It’s one thing to read about plague statistics in history books, quite another to experience what it must have been like while reading the words of an excellent storyteller. It comforts me to know others have felt the same fear.

Being a highly sensitive child, whenever I would lament about the sad things happening in the world my father would sigh and advise me, “‘Twas ever thus.” When my mother was dying of cancer and my heart ached for her suffering he would gently remind me that “every creature struggles for life.” He was a naturalist and scientist who taught us compassion for animals and people, but also prepared us for loss. Whenever one of our pets died he would tell us to “remember the good times.” I am so grateful for the lessons he taught me.

4.19.20 ~ showing off her feathers

‘Twas ever thus — from childhood’s hour I’ve seen my fondest hopes decay, I never loved a tree or flower but ’twas the first to fade away.
~ Charles Dickens
(The Old Curiosity Shop)

helping hand

RenoufHelpingHand
“The Helping Hand” by Émile Renouf

The first time I ever saw a print of this painting was at an estate sale, not long after my father died on September 19th in 2013. The expression on the man’s face reminded me of my father and the little girl reminded me of myself so I bought it. It’s not in the greatest condition and the coloring is way off. Perhaps the coloring on this digital copy is off, too. Some day I may replace it with a better copy.

He’s been gone for three years now and I still miss him, my favorite teacher. Papa taught me how to wash my hair, how to cross the street, how to trust my own instincts, how to treat animals, how to be compassionate and kind, how to swim, how to ice skate, how to paddle a canoe, how to chop an onion, how to look up words in a dictionary, how to do research, how to enjoy bird-watching, how to garden, how to walk (and play) in the woods — the list goes on. I think of him every time I do any of those things.

It’s almost autumn and I will be eating as many Macoun apples as I can while the season lasts. They were his favorites. He often told me the following story when I was growing up. (It first appeared almost 6 years ago on my blog!)

When my father was a boy growing up on a New England farm during the Great Depression, his family picked as many apples as they could and stored some of them in a barrel in the root cellar. Of course he ate as many as he could while picking them, but his parents had a rule about the ones in the barrel he found exasperating. If anyone wanted an apple later in the fall or winter, he was required to take one that was the least fresh. By the time they got to the fresher ones they had also become much less fresh! So all winter he was having to make do with eating not-so-great apples. If only he had known he might have called on Iduna to keep the apples fresher longer!
~ Barbara Rodgers
(Iduna: Keeper of Apples)

But perhaps I miss him the most whenever I hear a story on the news about a threat from a new virus or other infectious agent. Dad was a microbiologist and was utterly fascinated with microorganisms — viruses, bacteria, spirochetes, amoebas, fungi, parasites. He would never tire of explaining things about them to me and correcting any misinformation the media might be passing along to his fellow citizens. And I never tired of listening. I find myself wondering what he would have had to say about the Zika virus. It’s not easy finding someone so interested in this subject!

I didn’t notice it at first, but my father died on his older brother’s birthday. Jon Stephen was born on September 19th in 1909 in Ukraine. My father, Theodore William, never knew his older brother because Jon died of a ruptured appendix on March 15th in 1919 in New York, when he was only 9 years old. Papa was born three years later on March 13th in 1922. A little bit of synchronicity there I think.

Still missing you, my dear old Papa!

vitality sweeps

Mystic, Connecticut
baby ducks with mother ~ ? ~ Mystic, Connecticut

The release of reproach enables the universal motion of vitality to flow again. Like a long-dammed-up tide, vitality sweeps toward the arid shores of the soul with compassionate moisture, bringing life into perspective and rhythm once more.
~ Caitlín Matthews
(The Celtic Spirit: Daily Meditations for the Turning Year)

so old, so alone

10.12.14 ~ Durham, North Carolina
dawn redwood ~ 10.12.14 ~ Sarah P. Duke Gardens, Durham, North Carolina

The tree was so old, and stood there so alone, that his childish heart had been filled with compassion; if no one else on the farm gave it a thought, he would at least do his best to, even though he suspected that his child’s words and child’s deeds didn’t make much difference. It had stood there before he was born, and would be standing there after he was dead, but perhaps, even so, it was pleased that he stroked its bark every time he passed, and sometimes, when he was sure he wasn’t observed, even pressed his cheek against it.
~ Karl Ove Knausgård
(A Time for Everything)

Fossils show that Dawn Redwood (Metasequoin glyptostroboides) was a dominant coniferous tree in much of the Northern hemisphere from about 90 to 15 million years ago. In 1941 a few living trees were surprisingly discovered in a remote part of western China. Seeds collected from them were germinated at the Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University in 1948. The next year this tree, one of the original seedlings, was planted here in Durham, North Carolina at the Sarah P. Duke Gardens at Duke University.

a trail of busted stuff

"The White Mantle" by Willard Metcalf (1858-1925) American Painter
“The White Mantle” by Willard Metcalf

1° F here this frigid morning… Winter storm Bethany dumped some snow on us Thursday and Friday, and this morning I peeked out the window to see what kind of shoveling job I have ahead of me this afternoon, when it should be a little bit warmer. It doesn’t look like many of our neighbors have been out to shovel either. The world seems so still in the cold.

It was a production getting the bathroom warm enough to take a shower in! But now that I am clean and swathed in extra layers of clothing, I decided to find a painting and type out a few words for a blog post. It’s a start.

Not surprisingly, after nine months of unrelenting stress, my poor husband has succumbed to a bad cold. He’s tucked in on the couch, watching old movies and science fiction movies – a well-deserved rest from his care-giving. I’m bringing him soup, tissues, medicines, hot tea with honey. It’s going to take us a long time to recuperate and rebuild after a rolling stone entered our lives, in the form of his brother Toby.

A rolling stone gathers no moss
But leaves a trail of busted stuff
~ Dave Matthews
♫ (Busted Stuff) ♫

I hesitate to write much about the past year and the the joys and sorrows it brought, all blessings, some in disguise. Toby was easy to love but impossible to live with. Yet somehow we did it. I still had much to learn about family love and pain and trust and compassion. My heart is full of gratitude as I hibernate here in the winter to contemplate and heal…

contradiction and paradox

“Little Girl in Blue” by Amedeo Modigliani
“Little Girl in Blue” by Amedeo Modigliani

How is one to live a moral and compassionate existence when one is fully aware of the blood, the horror inherent in life, when one finds darkness not only in one’s culture but within oneself? If there is a stage at which an individual life becomes truly adult, it must be when one grasps the irony in its unfolding and accepts responsibility for a life lived in the midst of such paradox. One must live in the middle of contradiction, because if all contradiction were eliminated at once life would collapse. There are simply no answers to some of the great pressing questions. You continue to live them out, making your life a worthy expression of leaning into the light.
~ Barry Lopez
(Arctic Dreams)

complicity

"Shepherd with Cows on the Lakeshore" by Christian Friedrich Mali
“Shepherd with Cows on the Lakeshore” by Christian Friedrich Mali

The process of becoming a vegetarian acts like a spark to consciousness, and as you journey down this path, you become mindful of the connection between the living, breathing creature and the package of meat or fish neatly wrapped in the supermarket.
~ Jennifer Horsman & Jaime Flowers
(Please Don’t Eat the Animals: All the Reasons You Need to be a Vegetarian)

In the past, the idea of being a vegetarian has always appealed to me, but marriage is about compromises and I married a devout meat-and-potatoes guy. Our children had to put up with a few episodes of me trying to convert everyone to my way of thinking, but my lack of cooking talent and the lack of helpful information made for many unappealing meals. They all remember, without fondness, the TVP debacle – the cookbook didn’t mention that the textured vegetable protein needed to be soaked until soft before adding it to spaghetti sauce! No one appreciated the crunchy spaghetti and TVP sauce…

A little background of my journey from omnivore to herbivore…

My mom loved all things Native American. I remember her telling me that Indians worshiped nature and believed they should only take from her, with gratitude, what they needed to survive. With her words, she painted a picture for me that I still see to this day, of a hunter respectfully kneeling over the animal he had killed with his arrow, thanking its spirit for the sacrifice of its life for the benefit of his family or tribe.

One day I asked my father about hunting. He told me his story about a gun his father gave him as a gift so he could go hunting in the woods. Not wanting to disappoint his father, he set off to find some game. He found a squirrel and shot it on his first try. When he went over to retrieve it he found himself devastated and sick to his stomach that he had taken its life. He never hunted again.

But, Mom’s knowledge and Dad’s experience did not stop them from eating the all-American died of meat and dairy products! And while my paternal grandfather lived us, until he died when I was 8 years old, he regularly used his ax on a stump in the back yard to chop the heads off of chickens for dinner. It was very disturbing to me to see the decapitated chickens running around for what seemed like an eternity.

You have just dined, and, however scrupulously the slaughter-house is concealed in the graceful distance of miles, there is complicity.
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
(A Political Companion to Ralph Waldo Emerson)

Over the years I got an inkling that animals were suffering terribly on factory farms and in slaughterhouses, so Tim & I agreed that we would only eat meat that was naturally raised, cage-free, and slaughtered humanely. A friend, knowing my sensitivity to violence, warned me not to watch the documentary, EARTHLINGS, but I did watch it, in August, while Tropical Storm Irene was raging outside. It did deeply disturb me, and removed all doubt from my mind about how bad things were in these torture chambers.

In one scene there was a pig who had spent its whole life squished in a cramped pen and had never seen a ray of sunshine or a blade of grass. Now it was time for it to be slaughtered. The worker opened the gate and started poking the terrified pig with a sharp prong. It fell down repeatedly and was pierced over and over to make it get up and move on. All the while the merciless worker kept shouting at it, over and over, “Come on, mother-f—-r, move.”

And a sharp contrast appeared in my mind between these two images: one, the cruel words coming out of the mouth of that heartless factory farm worker; and the other, much different picture: the sincere words of thanks coming out of the mouth of the respectful Native American hunter.

EARTHLINGS

science, mystery, wonder

zebras by Gary M. Stolz
zebras by Gary M. Stolz

Science is not meant to cure us of mystery, but to reinvent and reinvigorate it. … I love science, and it pains me to think that so many are terrified of the subject or feel that choosing science means you cannot also choose compassion, or the arts, or be awed by nature.
~ Robert Sapolsky
(Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers)