Ode to the Woolly Bear

If I had a blog, today I would write in praise of the Woolly Bear Caterpillar.

October 5 - Woolly Bear Caterpillar

October 5 – Woolly Bear Caterpillar

For as long as I can remember, the appearance of the woolly bear has been a cause for great excitement in our family. Not only are these dashing caterpillars pleasing to the eye in their black and russet coats, but they are one of the first creatures to hint at the severity of the coming winter. As a child, I appraised every woolly bear I encountered, examining the number of rusty bands in his coat with scientific accuracy. The more rusty bands (most have 5 or 6), the milder the winter (and the deeper my disappointment), but to find a woolly bear with 4 or fewer bands meant a chance at my dream come true: A winter of deep snow and biting cold.

My dreams of a hard winter stemmed from the thrill of being free from school on “snow days.” Living in central Missouri, where snow is more the exception than the rule, any chance at a good winter storm was cause for excitement. I remember well, listening to the radio on a snowy morning, my brother and I holding our breath until Rolla Public Schools were added to the school closings. Once reprieved, the first thing I did was call my Granny Ruby. She’d pick up the phone and I’d burst forth with my pronouncement, “No school today!” Those mornings were as wonderful as Christmas and the whole world was wrapped up as our present.

The woolly bear I found in the yard this morning had between 5 and 6 rusty bands, so he predicts as fairly “normal” winter and that’s ok with me. Although I still love a good snowstorm as much as ever, I am lucky enough not to need the weather to free me from the bondage of life indoors. I work primarily from home and, once chores are done, I can go a-wandering any day I please. These days, the changing of the seasons are reunions, a time to reconnect with old friends like the woolly bear and the snowbird, a time to reminisce about days gone by and to add new chapters to the book of my life. Whether the winter ahead is stormy or mild, I will have my stories to share and my memories to keep me warm as a woolly bear on a perfect autumn morn.

Wren Magic

If I had a blog, today I would write about one of my favorite birds: The Wren.

Winter Wren

Winter Wren

When I am out on a photo shoot, it is always a pleasure to encounter a wren. Though they are one of the smallest birds in the forest, they are fearless. They seem happy to let me set up camera and tripod in plain sight and will let me do so at closer range than any of their avian cousins. When They aren’t watching my antics with the camera, they flit about through the underbrush, flipping leaves and darting in and out of the bracken with fierce pleasure. The set of their upturned tail, the gleam in their eye all speak to the wren’s unshakable confidence. If I happen to get a little too close for my subject’s comfort, the wren does not flee, but rather zips a few feet away and scolds me for my impertinence. Chastened, I back away until Her Ladyship feels I’ve shown the requisite obeisance, then she is back at work, and so am I.

October 3 - House Wren

House Wren

On my walk this morning, I encountered two of family Troglodytidae: The winter wren and the house wren. Both were kind enough to let me take the pictures I wanted and I felt my spirits lift just watching these intrepid ladies go about their work. Wrens bring me joy not only because they are lovely, but because they possess traits I lack. I struggle to be self-assured; to speak my mind without fear of reproach, to stand up to the world and proclaim myself worthy of respect however eccentric I may be. I would like the wren to teach me how to set unimpeachable boundaries that allow me to do what I love without feeling self-centered; without questioning my motives a thousand times over and I would like the wren to teach me to sing, to express myself in my voice, however strident and brazen it may seem.

Druids and Celts believed wren feathers were wards against drowning and people often collected cast-off feathers to wear as amulets of protection. I am a good swimmer, but I could use a wren feather to save me from drowning in the ocean of worry and fear. As I survey the future and the inevitable loss of those I hold dear, the waves come crashing, pulling me out into the dark waters of the unknown. I know I must tread these waters, but perhaps with the help of the wren, at least I know I will stay afloat.

Sedge Wren

Sedge Wren (2013)

If tradition holds, the wrens will be busy along our fence-rows for weeks to come and I will be in their company daily as I take my autumn walks. I will remember to stop and make medicine with the wrens and ask if they would care to pass on their wisdom to a lowly human being. I have hope that a creature who is undeniably certain of its power will accept a me as a willing pupil and perhaps the coming of the Winter Solstice will find me strong of voice and master of my fears. If there is a magic that can guide me to safe harbor, it is Wren Magic that can give me what I seek.


Into the Mystery

If I had a blog, I today I would write about the mysterious powers of my great-grandmother’s Ouija Board.

My Great Grandmother's Ouija Board

My Great Grandmother’s Ouija Board

In my library there is a bit of wood; slightly warped, chipped around the edges, and brittle with age. It is adorned with the alphabet, the numbers 0-9, icons for the moon, sun, and stars, and at the bottom, it wishes users a cheery “Good Bye.” To the untrained eye, it is just a nick-knack; a vestige of days gone by, but I have noticed something strange about my Great Grandmother Bunch’s Ouija Board: It seems to rob people of common sense.

To work its magic, the Ouija Board doesn’t have to be used. No spirits need to be called, no fingers gently laid upon the heart-shaped planchette to reveal the words of the departed. No, for the Ouija Board to take control, all I have to do is point to it and say, “This is my Great Grandmother’s Ouija Board,” and the spell is cast.

Over the years, I have seen smart, sensible people become frightened children in the presence of the Ouija Board. Some refuse to look at it, for fear evil spirits will come forth and possess them. Others chastise me for my folly: Don’t I know that just having the thing in the house could draw evil spirits? The Ouija Board has put lesser friendships on the rocks and one woman, an acquaintance of my mother’s, won’t come in the house unless she is assured the vile creature is covered and stowed away in some dark corner of the attic.

To what do I attribute the power of this seemingly innocuous board game? Its history is quite bland: It was created in 1891 by two U.S. businessmen and sold as a source of entertainment for use at social gatherings. The name, “Ouija” holds no clue to its power either, as it is simply a combination of the French and German words for “yes” (oui and ja). In fact, the only thing remarkable about the Ouija Board is the stir created by religious leaders who, from the game’s inception, insisted it was a tool of the devil and a portal through which demons could control unwary human beings. Like most mystical icons, the power of the Ouija Board lies in the beliefs of the beholder.

As we enter the month of October, a time of year that abounds with whispers of myth and magic, I think it is a good time to move beyond the stories of the bogey man, ghosts and goblins, and monsters under the bed. Those are fodder for childish fear, the kind of superstition that keeps us from exploring the deeper parts of life. I believe, as Shakespeare wrote, that “There is more in Heaven and Earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy,” but I do not believe the search for “more” is fraught with peril.

Evil exists, of that I have no doubt, but I believe it only exists in the hearts of human beings during their mortal lives and the only Hell is the one we create for ourselves and our fellow earthmates when we let ego, selfishness, hatred, and intolerance guide our actions in life. After death, we are cleansed of these corruptions, but we have to exist with the torturous knowledge of what we have done. That is what I believe, anyway.

One thing I know for sure: In the century or more that Great Grandmother Bunch’s Ouija Board has been on the planet, none of its users, including me, have been in the presence of demons. It has been a source of wisdom for my foremothers, of spine-tingling fun at slumber parties and a tie that binds me to my past, but in the end it is no more than I make of it. If I feared the spiritual unknown, it would frighten me, but the fear would come from me, not from this simple piece of wood.

Tonight, I will put the Ouija Board in the center of my Halloween decor; draped with bittersweet and surrounded with ceramic jack o’lanterns and silk mums. As I arrange my little centerpiece, I will think fondly of Great Grandmother Bunch and the many mysteries she has laid in my hands – especially for giving me her Ouija Board and the belief that life is filled with magic.

Check Out My New Gallery Page

If I had a blog, today I would announce the unveiling of my photo gallery page, featuring the images I have selected for my 90-Day Project: Journey to the Solstice.

The reason I have decided to showcase these photos on their own page is to give me freedom to blog about subjects other than the photo-of-the-day, while sharing my special photographs with all of you at the same time. I’ll be adding one photo to the gallery each day through December 21st, so visit the page often to see what’s new.

To view the gallery, click on “Journey to the Solstice 2014” at the top of the page, then click on any image to get a larger view. Once you are in “slideshow mode” you can exit by pressing the Esc key on your keyboard.