Small Satisfactions

IMG_1634The pond is blustery this morning, skittishly turning from blue to brown as the wind gusts across it. I couldn’t stay inside. So I put on my rubber boots (the easiest things to grab) with no socks (takes too much time to put on socks) and tightened the belt of my baby blue velour bathrobe with the soot stains on the sleeves from building a fire in the woodstove chilly mornings. I tucked my raggedy sweatpants into the boots, arranged my Lanz of Salzburg flannel nightgown over them, remembered to take the binoculars and stepped out. It was quite the look, I’m sure. Especially when I remembered that I had slept in my blue topaz earrings, so they were dangling coquettishly.

As I tromped over to the pond grate to clean it—a daily activity—a new birdcall gave me pause and I stopped to locate it. I keep a bird journal and each year I get excited when the migrants show up. I know this because when I look back on earlier years to see when, for instance, the fox sparrow has arrived, it has the same exclamation point next to it that I put on this year. I located the singing bird with the binoculars, trying to keep it in my sights as it danced along the spruce branches—no mean feat, especially since I hadn’t had my morning coffee yet.

I looked for markers to identify it, but it was unremarkable—a buff colored little thing with a wing bar (but not a goldfinch.) Then I saw the glimmer of deep red—just a dot, really—on the top of its head. Ah ha! A ruby-crowned kinglet! I made my way back to the house, wrote ruby crowned kinglet (!) in my bird journal and then sat down next to the cheery wood stove and took a first sip of hot coffee.



Everything is Revealed by Highlights and Shadows

I originally wrote this post one year ago, after the Boston Marathon bombings. This Monday, the Marathon runs again. In the intervening year, there have been, worldwide, more bombings, more acts of terrorism and aggression, more unrest. Sometimes it seems like the shadows are taking over. But the beauty of being human is that we can decide what we want to believe. And then we can believe it. I still choose to believe that a million lights of kindness will cover the darkest acts of atrocity. And I always will.

Grief is linked, in Traditional Chinese Medicine, to the lung and large intestine organs and, like anger, fear, joy/sadness and worry, it plays a fundamental role in our health. Our lungs hold and distribute the oxygen that sustains life, so our inhalation is quite literally the act of taking in life.  When we exhale, we are letting go, in the trust that our next inhalation will come. Without this exhalation––this letting go with trust­­––we can’t take in another breath; we can’t take in more life.

It is the role of grief to facilitate the letting-go process. When we grieve, we are letting go of that which no longer serves us. Grieving is the process of sifting through the loss to discover the essence that we wish to carry with us. And then allowing the rest go, so we are able to take in another breath, to continue living.

This week I am grieving the lives lost and maimed at the Boston Marathon bombings and underneath that, I am grieving the awareness that there are people so separated from the basic heart of humanity, that to maim and kill innocent lives is, to them, an acceptable act. But my grieving has unearthed an essence in the tragedy, to wit: the darkest acts of atrocity are covered by a million lights of kindness. In Boston, people ran toward the bombing scene, seconds after it happened, to help, heedless of their own safety. Social media spontaneously sprang into action to coordinate emergency information.

Everything is revealed by highlights and shadows. We are moving forward as a species defined by our immense kindnesses in the wake of our isolated evils.


I want to believe that the imperfections are nothing—

that the light is everything—that it is more than the sum

of each flawed blossom rising and fading. And I do.

excerpted from The Ponds by Mary Oliver

The Sacred Space

A dear friend of mine died this week and while it was not unexpected, still…

It came as a shock to realize that he no longer exists in this world, creating currents. He now only exists in my mind as memories and I am left with only the currents  of my own memories. Sometimes a person changes your life and he did mine. I am now a birdwatcher because of his introduction; I discovered the balance of Zen because of him. Like many friendships, ours lurched with some misunderstanding, but it stood the test because underneath all the whitecaps, we had a vast ocean in common.

There was nothing left unsaid or undone at the end. He visited me in my new house, approving of it all, and when we last spoke, we said goodbye without actually saying the words, just extending to each other the understanding.

The loss created at first, an aching emptiness. But as I sifted through what was left to me, I came to realize that the emptiness was a gift. The emptiness, created by the wrenching free of what used to be filled with all the intertwining threads of a relationship, was also space. And without space, there can be no growth. And without growth, there is no life.

Grief is necessary. It is necessary to sift through the memories, holding each close and deciding whether to keep it as something precious, placing it in the space we now have, or to let it go, as something outgrown,

making more room for life.

2014-04-08 22.43.14

Earning Spring

There is really only one thing to write about this week and that is SPRING. After a long winter we’ve had three days (three days! count ‘em!) of sun and above freezing temps. While my spring fever is not yet at the giddy stage, I do feel a low thrumming of anticipation running through me. Each morning I hear more birdsongs and the other evening I sat outside to stare at the one patch of open water near the house. As dusk deepened, the sky became Maxfield Parrish blue and a perfect crescent of a moon glowed above the pines, reflecting in the water. I was waiting. And then I heard it. A sleek ripple and a snuffle. The otter. I sat and listened as it hunted, and then, hunting successfully, as the sounds turned to chomping and scraping.

As winter loosens it grip and spring takes over, I rejoice in the fullness of coming to life again, of emerging from hibernation and wrapping my arms around the activity of spring. You have to earn spring. No instant gratification here—and it is all the sweeter for it.

Maxfield Parrish - Hill Top Farm, Winter, 1949