On Christmas Eve morning we headed 13 miles north to find some snow without a sheet of ice on top of it. It was melting up in Ledyard but still looking lovely and was walkable. I was delighted! I was going to get my chance to walk in the snow covered woods!
In the winter there are fewer men in the fields and woods … you see the tracks of those who had preceded you, and so are more reminded of them than in summer. ~ Henry David Thoreau (Journal, December 12, 1859)
The preserve’s website mentioned wolf trees, which are “relics from the agricultural era when trees along the edges of fields could spread their branches.” My curiosity piqued, I soon spotted one. I’ve seen trees like this before, but didn’t know there was a term for them.
In the strictest sense, wolf trees are those spared the axe during widespread Colonial-era deforestation in order to provide shade for livestock or mark a boundary. As second- and third-growth woods filled in abandoned pasture and farmland, these titans have become crowded by dense, spindly youngsters. Where those upstarts are tall and narrow, competing fiercely for canopy light, the wolf tree they surround has fat, laterally extended boughs and a comparatively squat trunk—a testament to the open, sunny country in which it once prospered. ~ Ethan Shaw (The Old in the Forest: Wolf Trees of New England & Farther Afield)
When we got to the brook we decided to turn around because there was no bridge and crossing over by stepping on the small rocks looked like a dicey proposition. But on the way back we paid more attention to the little things peeping out from under the snow.
The winter, with its snow and ice, is not an evil to be corrected. It is as it was designed and made to be, for the artist has had leisure to add beauty to use. ~ Henry David Thoreau (Journal, December 11, 1855)
We will return some day, better prepared to cross the brook and make our way to the cove, where we might find osprey and waterfowl. It was good to get a great walk in before heading home to hunker down for the fast approaching Christmas wind and rain storm.
We wound up having a good Christmas, even though it was pouring rain all day. There were treasured video calls with family. We finished a jigsaw puzzle together while listening to my winter solstice playlist on shuffle. Watched the final episodes of a Norwegian TV series on Netflix, Home for Christmas, dubbed in English. (Hjem til Jul)
As we started to close the drapes at dusk we found ourselves awestruck. The eastern sky, opposite of the sunset, was violet!!! We couldn’t believe our eyes! The color comes from the extra moisture in the atmosphere refracting the setting sun’s light rays so that the violet is reflected.
Color! What a deep and mysterious language, the language of dreams. ~ Paul Gauguin (Perception & Imaging: Photography as a Way of Seeing)
I have the impression that Emily Dickinson enjoyed the companionship of her large dog, Carlo, while she tended her garden. I used to discuss things with Larisa’s tabby cat, Mary, while I was planting and weeding my little plot. She was always interested in what I was up to and what I thought about this or that. Emily’s poetic musings…
Within my Garden, rides a Bird Opon a single Wheel — Whose spokes a dizzy music make As ’twere a travelling Mill —
He never stops, but slackens Above the Ripest Rose — Partakes without alighting And praises as he goes,
Till every spice is tasted — And then his Fairy Gig Reels in remoter atmospheres — And I rejoin my Dog,
And He and I, perplex us If positive, ’twere we — Or bore the Garden in the Brain This Curiosity —
But He, the best Logician, Refers my clumsy eye — To just vibrating Blossoms! An exquisite Reply!
~ Emily Dickinson (The Poems of Emily Dickinson, #370)
So everything that slows us down and forces patience, everything that sets us back into the slow cycles of nature, is a help. Gardening is an instrument of grace. ~ May Sarton (Journal of a Solitude)
My mother’s favorite flower was lily of the valley. She also had an andromeda shrub planted in the front yard, right near the dining room window.
A garden isn’t meant to be useful. It’s for joy. ~ Rumer Godden (China Court: A Novel)
As a scientist I am indeed only an ant, insufficient and anonymous, but I am stronger than I look and part of something that is much bigger than I am. Together we are building something that will fill our grandchildren’s grandchildren with awe, and while building we consult daily the crude instructions provided by our grandfathers’ grandfathers. As a tiny, living part of the scientific collective, I’ve sat alone countless nights in the dark, burning my metal candle and watching a foreign world with an aching heart. Like anyone else who harbors precious secrets wrought from years of searching, I have longed for someone to tell. ~ Hope Jahren (Lab Girl)
Reading Lab Girl by Hope Jahren was eye-opening for me. My father was a scientist and, like many children, I didn’t have much of a grasp on what he did all day. I knew he was researching chicken viruses in a lab at the university. Sometimes he would take my sister and me to work and I noticed all sorts of lab equipment, especially a special light he used to examine chicken embryos in their shells. I knew every couple of years he would be stressing about whether he would get funding for another couple of years. (He always did.) Once I tried to read his PhD thesis, but it was like trying to read a foreign language.
In this book Jahren, who studies plants, introduced me to the concept of curiosity-driven research. The scientist sets up and runs experiments to investigate whatever she happens to be wondering about. Any “real-world” applications of the results are not immediately apparent or sought. Collecting data is pure joy for her. She adds to the volume of scientific knowledge and leaves information for future scientists to make use of in their own research.
Now I get what my father was doing all those years! He may not have made any dazzling discoveries but he was an important ‘part of something that is much bigger than he was.’ Hope Jahren gives a very enlightening look into the everyday world of scientists, in words all of us will understand.
Last weekend we flew down to North Carolina to see the little one, and her parents, of course. 😉 A visit to the Museum of Life & Science in Durham proved to be a great adventure. The museum’s tag line is “know wonder.” We spent most of our visit at the “Into the Mist” outdoor exhibit because that’s where Katherine’s curiosity led her.
Activate push-button mist fields and watch as droplets of water suspended in air form clouds that hover over small valleys. How does humidity and wind impact your misty landscape? Take a one-of-a-kind stroll through this cooling landscape and watch as rainbows appear then disappear. Climb through tunnels, make sand sculptures, or just sit, cool off, and observe the beauty of mist, landforms, and rock.
~ Museum of Life & Science website
Katherine is an observer. This little amphitheater/mist pit captured her attention. For a good while she studied carefully how the other children played until the mist stopped coming up from the ground and then how one of them would run up the stairs to push a button on top of a pole to make the mist appear again.
When she finally decided to take the plunge she had a wonderful time and got thoroughly soaked in the mist.
After changing Katherine into dry clothes we all had lunch and then Grammy & Grandpa Tim got to take our little darling on the Ellerbe Creek Railway. She’s very interested in trains these days and there are a few more in the area we hope to ride on during our next visit. While on the train we passed the Hideaway Woods outdoor exhibit and will definitely have to check out the huge tree house playground. But we had all had enough excitement for one day and it was getting hotter as the day wore on. Hard to believe it was still February.
Grandchildren are the dots that connect the lines from generation to generation.
~ Lois Wyse
(Funny, You Don’t Look Like a Grandmother)
Saturday we spent the day north of Boston, visiting Katie, who was visiting some friends there with her mother. Katie the observer, she is definitely an observer, bright-eyed and curious. She had grown a lot in the month since we saw her last.
Things have been relatively quiet around here. We’ve postponed some plans because a few relatives and friends have caught that severe flu going around. I haven’t had the flu since 1988 and I hope to keep it that way! We get flu shots every year, but this strain mutated and this year’s vaccine is only about 33% effective.
And the nursing home where my aunt lives is under quarantine, because of the flu outbreak, which may interfere with our plans to celebrate her 100th birthday on the 30th. So far she hasn’t caught it.
Zoë, who normally has excellent litter box habits, got the trots. Poor thing was doing her best to get to the box on time but we had a day of cleaning up after her. She wouldn’t eat and she didn’t want to be around us, but she is now back to her hungry, sweet, affectionate self.
And so I am enjoying my winter rest, puttering around the house, watching the birds, wishing for a little more snow, pruning my family tree (still), and making travel plans. My eyes get very bleary reading these travel guides……
We find delight in the beauty and happiness of children that makes the heart too big for the body.
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
(The Conduct of Life)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Our new little granddaughter arrived yesterday morning! I am still thrilled to pieces that I got to be there when she was born. 7 lbs, 12.5 oz., 20 inches long. Cute as a button, large bright hazel eyes, her mother’s long eye lashes, her father’s long toes, and a head full of hair. Full of curiosity. I had a chance to hold her, too. Mother and baby are doing well.
A few days ago my laptop broke and I have no way of sending pictures from my camera to the computer. Sigh. But when things settle down and the computer wizards have a chance to fix this I will definitely post some pictures!
This weekend I received the sad news that my sister’s dear cat, Bernie, passed away. We are all heartbroken, even though we knew he was very old and very sick, and even though we are relieved that his suffering is over. Bernie was a wise soul who taught me many things about life, about acceptance, and about curiosity. Over the years he and I shared many long walks in the woods around my father’s house – he was a wonderful companion.
I invite you to read my first post on this blog about him here: Bernie
On Christmas Day, 2011, Bernie didn’t want to take a walk with me, so I sat with him at the top of the stairs for a while, petting his thin and bony body, talking to him. Then I went out for a walk in the woods by myself before it got dark. I knew then that we would no longer be walking together…
Farewell, my brave friend, and may you rest in peace. We miss you so much…
At the same time that we are earnest to explore and learn all things, we require that all things be mysterious and unexplorable, that land and sea be infinitely wild, unsurveyed and unfathomed by us because unfathomable. We can never have enough of nature. We must be refreshed by the sight of inexhaustible vigor, vast and titanic features, the sea-coast with its wrecks, the wilderness with its living and its decaying trees, the thunder-cloud, and the rain which lasts three weeks and produces freshets. We need to witness our own limits transgressed, and some life pasturing freely where we never wander.
~ Henry David Thoreau