Going With the Flow

If I had a blog, today I would reflect on the start of a new year in the wake of the Flood of 2015.

The Little Piney from the Bridge at Newburg

The Little Piney from the Bridge at Newburg

Missouri is about rivers. We have somewhere in the neighborhood of 120 named rivers and creeks plus countless back-road streams that come to life when rain is abundant. On Christmas night 2015, it started to rain. It came down in buckets for three days and nights, leaving us with a grand total of 11.26 inches. Even the tiniest stream became a roaring river, closing back roads and interstates, washing away homes and cars,  and changing the lay of the land in ways I never imagined.

Yesterday, we visited our own river: The quarter-mile of the Little Piney Creek that is our southern property line. We wished we could see the Piney when it was up and rolling, but the myriad side-streams kept us away until yesterday afternoon; until the moment we were witness to the raw and merciless power of Nature.

Before & After

Before & After

To put it bluntly, the river and the valley that lies beside it is unrecognizable. The pasture that once fed our cows and sheep is now a beach. The river gouged a new inlet, six or seven feet deep and fifty yards long, into the field, buried or ripped away the fences, and left a giant sycamore, uprooted by the flow, resting on its side where the river bank used to be.

 

The New Channel

The New Channel

The pathway that meandered through the green mansions of sycamore, river birch, and paw-paw trees is scoured clean of underbrush. Great masses of sticks, leaves, and vines are draped around tree trunks, six or seven feet above the ground. Feet of sand cover the ground and everywhere, great trees lie upon the ground, felled by the raging stream.

The Path to the River

The Path to the River

At the river’s edge, the sand bar where we picnicked, swam, and sunbathed on steamy summer days is reformed. Here, the sand is gone; replaced by stones from miles upstream. The path we used to drive down is blocked by downed trees and made almost impassable by a huge hole filled with river water.

 

A New World Order

A New World Order

It is sobering to see an entire landscape changed overnight; taken from the world of the familiar and replaced with something barren, battered and bruised. This morning I stepped into an alien world and I felt afraid. Standing on the banks of the Little Piney I faced the fear that haunts us all: The fear that we are not in control.

Nature, biology, random human violence all force us to admit that however neat and tidy we make our personal lives, nothing is certain; nothing is forever. In the blink of an eye, our world can change forever – and that is what keeps us awake at night.

The Sycamore

The Sycamore

In the face of The Flood, stepping across the threshold into a new year feels less comfortable than it has in the past. I can pretend that my vision of 2016 is accurate: That I can set goals and see them realized; make plans and see them bear fruit and walk confidently ahead on a familiar path, knowing that the foundation of my life is secure, but the Little Piney tells me to be careful because life isn’t safe. In fact, life is terribly unsafe. It is unsafe for children, unsafe for adults. Life is unsafe in any direction. Life is unsafe at any speed.

So how do I move forward? How do I face this brave, new world? The Piney offers me wisdom in her rebirth: The disaster came, but The Piney didn’t resist. She rose and fell, changed her course, and even made footprints in a foreign land. The river flows on without fear of the next flood. Even today she is coming clear again. In a few more days, her voice will be softer and, come spring, little green things will begin to poke through the choking sand and reclaim their rightful place among the budding trees. The Piney says, “Ride out the catastrophe, then start again.”

Things on the river will not be the same. New paths will emerge, old trees will fall, and water will make its home where once there was dry land, but, if we are wise, we too will adapt to the change. Even in this microcosm of life, we will find new bliss. Summer will come and one fine afternoon, we will traverse the fallen trees and muddy pools and sit beside the laughing waters once again. The wood thrush will sing, cardinals will find refuge in the brush piles, and otter will find crawdads under rocks that have come from many miles away. Life is change. Change is life. All we can do is go with the flow.

The Little Piney Renewed

The Little Piney Renewed

Sauntering Towards the Holy Land

If I had a blog, today I would write about my autumn idyll.

White Iron Lake - Ely, MN

White Iron Lake – Ely, MN

I love the morning after an autumnal storm. The thunder and lightning passed with the darkness and daybreak brings calm. The dark skies that troubled my dreams are breaking into soft piles of white, gold, and magenta that run with the freshening wind, leaving blue sky in their wake.

Mom at Rookie Pond - Ely, MN

Mom at Rookie Pond – Ely, MN

I have seen a hundred mornings like this in the North Country, when the first breath of Canadian air rushes south to bring the first breath of autumn to a summer-weary land. As the clouds part, the dark water of the lakes begins to come to life and sparkle with blue. The wind carries only a few sounds now: The chirp of crickets, the call of blue jays and the raspy voice of ravens in search of food. The mellow sun is warm on my back, but as it dips beneath the clouds, I am glad to have a fleece jacket in my day-pack.

Diamond Drops

Diamond Drops

Today, I am a thousand miles south of “Up North,” writing away with doors and windows flung open to welcome the chill in the air. The mellow light has come too, and my desk is dappled with golden light.

Quiet Time

Quiet Time

When I got up this morning, my first thought was, “Oh wow! I can go for a walk and clean at the barn, and start my fall photo essay…” But once I finished chores, I was overcome with a sense of peace so luxurious I was called to sit and write and listen to the blue jays and crows calling in my woods. “This is not a work-day,” my soul assured me. “This is a day to revel.” And so I have.

 

The Holy Land

The Holy Land

Days like this make it clear what Thoreau experienced on Walden when he wrote, “And so we saunter towards the Holy Land, till one day the sun shall shine more brightly than ever it has done, and shall perchance shine into our minds and hearts, and light up our whole lives with a great awakening light, as warm and serene and golden as on a bankside in autumn. ”

So may it be.

 

 

Be Still And Know

If I had a blog, today I would write about the sacred nature of silence.

The Lord of Holiness

The Lord of Holiness

The last few days, the message of The Universe has been, “Be still.” I spent two days on a solo retreat in Missouri Wine Country, enjoying the rare privilege of reading, writing, and sitting in quiet contemplation. Originally, I had gone to the little town of Hermann to eagle-watch along the Missouri River, but when I arrived, I knew my trip was to center around restoring my spirit, not adding to my portfolio. I gave in to the urge to rest and in the stillness of those midwinter days, I found new life in the simple act of doing nothing.

Any doubts I had about forsaking my eagle project were erased this morning when I discovered a handsome bald eagle perched in a tree near the barn. I had followed my heart on my retreat and now the eagle had come to me and I knew at once the story I needed to share:

The Eagle wasn’t always the Eagle. The Eagle, before he became the Eagle, was Yucatangee, the Talker. Yucatangee talked and talked. It talked so much it heard only itself. Not the river, not the wind, not even the Wolf. The Raven came and said “The Wolf is hungry. If you stop talking, you’ll hear him. The wind too. And when you hear the wind, you’ll fly.” So he stopped talking. And became its nature, the Eagle. The Eagle soared, and its flight said all it needed to say. (As told by Marilyn Whirlwind on Northern Exposure).

My Bald Eagle

My Bald Eagle

Today the eagle assured me I can trust my heart; that not all needs are met by action. The eagle reminded me that unless I am quiet in body and in spirit I cannot hear the voice of The Divine. Ralph Waldo Emerson spoke to this when he wrote: There are voices which we hear in solitude, but they grow faint and inaudible as we enter into the world.”  and still more compelling, he admonished, “Let us be silent, that we may hear the whispers of the gods.”

Going forward, I will remember to stop, to be still, and to listen, for then I will not have to go in search of Holiness; it will come in search of me.

True North

If I had a blog, today I would write about my secret love affair with arctic cold.

A Parhelic Circle that formed around the sun on our coldest day of 2014.

A Parhelic Circle that formed around the sun on our coldest day of 2014.

“Time for the weather report: It’s cold out, folks, bone-crushing cold. The kind of cold that’ll wrench the spirit out of a young man or forge it into steel.” On this ten-degree morning with 30 mph winds screaming through the tree tops, the forecast given by Chris-in-the-Morning on Northern Exposure fits the prediction for The Greenwood on this polar January day. While most people are running from shelter to shelter, heads bowed and bodies tensed against winter’s return, I have to admit, I revel in the cold. Whatever my bloodlines, somewhere in my DNA is the code for Eskimo, Laplander, or Sherpa – a string of the genome that makes me feel centered, even euphoric, when I face chores on a day like today.

Me in my Up North gear.

Me in my Up North gear.

Part of my love for les temps froids is simply that I thrive in the cold and wilt in the heat. My inner furnace keeps me warm regardless of the wind chill, but apparently I have no internal cooling system and summer heat sends me to the mat. But that’s just a small part of the story – a story that begins in 1990, with the advent of a television show called Northern Exposure. I was in college, living alone for the first time and searching for an identity that fit my solitary, wilderness-loving nature. When I saw Northern Exposure, a critical piece of my inner puzzle fell into place telling me The North was the place for me. Not only did pointing my compass in that direction lead me to my own version of Cicely, a little town called Ely in Northern Minnesota, it also introduced me to the fascinating world of dogsled racing – the world of The Beargrease, the Yukon Quest and The Iditarod.

True North - A piece of original art I created in 2000.

True North – A piece of original art I created in 2000.

Overall, I have no interest in professional sports, but when the dogsled racing season begins, I’m as rabid as a fan can be. I have no idea who won last year’s World Series, but I can tell you who’s won last year’s races, their finish times, how many dogs they used, and what strategies they employed to beat their competitors. I follow The Iditarod online and often stay up well past midnight to watch the winner pull under the burled arches at the finish line in Nome. Watching the men and women who spend ten days travelling day and night through treacherous landscapes and bone-chilling cold, I am filled with admiration – and, in my younger years, a dream of running dogs myself.

My Iditarod Gear

My Iditarod Gear

Now that I am now well into my forties, and deeply invested in my life here in Missouri, I imagine my Iditarod dreams will stay just that. Though I may never have the experience of crossing Rainy Pass in the Alaska Range or running down the frozen Yukon River at -40 degrees, I can still get my fix when the polar vortex comes to call. Then, standing on the rise beyond the barn, with snow swirling around me and the wind ruffling the rabbit-fur lining of my hat, I know for just a moment what it feels like to face True North, what it feels like to come home.

Christmas to Me: Part III

If I had a blog, today I would finish telling you the story of my best Christmas ever…

Crossing Conchu Lake

Crossing Conchu Lake

Christmas Day dawned clear and cold. Without the folderol of opening presents or cooking a big company dinner, we ate our Paddler’s Porridge. This is our usual North Woods breakfast as it was the traditional breakfast of the French Voyageurs, the legendary fur-traders and explorers who made this part of the north part of song and lore during the 18th and 19th centuries. In need of a hearty breakfast, these strapping young men started each day with hot cereal made from of oatmeal, mixed with wild rice, and craisins. I add cinnamon, vanilla, cream, and butter to up the ante just a bit, but either way, after a bowl of Paddler’s Porridge, even a Southerner is ready to spend the day out on the frozen lakes.

Once the dishes were washed, we bundled up and strapped on our skis, traveling east towards Uranus and Conchu lakes. Around noon, we crossed from Conchu to the Kawishiwi River, a ribbon of ice between tree-lined shores. The name: Kawishiwi (or Kawashaway) comes from the Algonquin words Kaw, meaning “no” and Ashaway meaning “the place between.” To the Chippewa, who dwelt here until the coming of the white man, this land of “No Place Between” was a spirit land; home to those who had passed beyond the mortal coil and was forbidden to those who still lived. Despite the legend, we chose to follow in the footsteps of naturalist Sigurd Olson, who came to this place often, in search of some sense of the magic the Chippewa found in this world between worlds. We did not know what we would find, but it was thrilling to be in a place so steeped with mystery.

Mom & Dad on the Kawishiwi

Mom & Dad on the Kawishiwi

As we traveled along the river, we discovered we were not the only ones to use the Kawishiwi as a winter roadway. The new-fallen snow was crisscrossed with the tracks of deer, foxes, moose, and wolves and it made me feel good to be part of this tapestry of life, a member of The Wild. In the trees along the shoreline, chickadees, timberjays, and pine siskins went about their daily round, gathering pine-nuts or retrieving seeds hidden during the bounty of autumn. In the distance, we heard the raspy voice of ravens patrolling the landscape for food. The wolves rely on the ravens’ aerial reconnaissance to locate deer or moose that have died from injuries, starvation, or cold. The ravens circle above the carcass, calling loudly, in hopes that the wolves will come and tear the bounty into bits the ravens can share. It is a somewhat macabre relationship, but that is the way of The Wild, the way of The North.

Lunchtime found us near a frozen waterfall. Across the river was a rock outcropping where we ate the sandwiches we’d packed for just this occasion. Despite the cold temperatures, the dark rock face was warm and it made a perfect rest stop after a long morning of skiing. By the time we’d eaten and basked in the sun, it was time to turn towards home. That far north, it was twilight by 3:30 and full dark an hour later, so we didn’t have time to waste on our journey home.

Lark Lake Sunset

Lark Lake Sunset

We crossed onto Lark Lake at sunset, the sky awash in magenta and purple. Most winter sunsets Up North are quite pale, so this blaze of color was a perfect end to a perfect Christmas day.

Nearly twenty years have passed since our Christmas on Lark Lake. We’ve been back to Ely many times since and each trip has been more akin to a pilgrimage than a vacation. There is something powerful, mystical and magical in the wilderness of the North that opens a person to experiences most profound. Part the magic comes from living simply – without the bells and whistles of modern convenience – and the rest is experiencing Nature in her wildest, freest form. Up North, Nature is still a wild thing, unfettered by human design. When you step into the woods or onto a frozen lake in the North Country, you become the servant and Nature is the master. It is an exhilarating experience, a gift from The Wild I will never forget.

Christmas to Me: Part II

If I had a blog, today I would continue the story of my favorite Christmas…

The Dogs Arrive at Our Cabin

The Dogs Arrive at Our Cabin

Christmas Eve dawned grey and cold. By mid-morning, snow began falling, giving the landscape an ethereal, “Jack Londonesque” quality. Just before noon, the tableau was complete as two teams of sled dogs appeared from the forest edge. If Santa and his reindeer had appeared on Lark Lake that morning I could not have been more excited. I had wanted to be a musher since I was ten years old – the winter I hitched our yellow lab, Michael, to my toboggan and played “Iditarod” from dawn to dusk on the snow-covered fields that made up our farm. Now, at long last, I had a chance to do the real thing: Ride behind a string of sled dogs in the wilderness of The North.

Our Sled Dogs

Our Sled Dogs

The afternoon was everything I’d hoped for: Flying over the frozen landscape under the expert guidance of our mushers, getting a sense of the skill it takes to manage a team of eight canine athletes. My experience driving horses did little to prepare me for the experience of running dogs. Although the dogs were harnessed and attached to the sled, there were no reins to guide or stop the team. All directions, “gee” for right, “haw” for left, and the all important “whoa,” are spoken by the musher. The dogs have complete control over whether they obey or not, thus making a well-trained team an absolute necessity. Happily, both teams we rode with that day were the picture of obedience and their synchronicity with their drivers was poetry in motion.

Rest Stop on the Trail

Rest Stop on the Trail

After a couple hours of traveling, we stopped for a rest. We were cold and needed hot cocoa to fuel our inner fires, while the dogs were hot (it was, after all fifteen degrees that afternoon) and needed time to rest, drink, and roll merrily in the snow. If I ever had any doubts as to whether or not sled dogs were happy in their work, they were erased that winter’s day. I have never seen dogs with more joie de vie. As soon as our break was over, they were ready to go: Jumping and barking and pulling at the traces so we’d know they were far from ready to go home.

Thanking Our New Friends

Thanking Our New Friends

We returned to the cabin shortly before dusk and thanked the mushers and each of their dogs for giving us the adventure of a lifetime. As they vanished into the woods across the lake and the light from the mushers’ headlamps faded from sight, The Great Silence returned to Lark Lake and Christmas Eve began.

A Toast to Christmas

A Toast to Christmas

Our holiday dinner was simple fare: Hamburger casserole and dinner rolls, accompanied by fine wine, with which we toasted family, the North Woods, and the sacredness of the season.  As we did the dinner dishes, we turned on the short-wave radio and listened to a boys’ choir in Germany, singing carols to celebrate that holiest of eves. One-by-we made our way to the sauna, returning warm, clean, and ready for an evening around the fire. We sat up until midnight, sharing memories of Christmases past until, at last, we blew out the lamps and turned in for the night. Mom and Dad slept on the futon by the stove and David, Kindra, and I slept in the loft, nestled in our sleeping bags, with starlight shining in the windows. Music from a choir in England lulled me to sleep and for the first time in decades, I felt the spirit of Christmas in every fibre of my being. My last thoughts that wondrous night were the words of favorite carol. “O Holy Night…O Night Divine.”

To be continued…

Christmas to Me: Part I

If I had a blog, today I would write about the best Christmas of my life.

All is Calm, All is Bright

All is Calm, All is Bright

Now that Thanksgiving is past, we have begun to enjoy our Christmas traditions, one of which is watching Chevy Chase in “Christmas Vacation.” We saw our old favorite last night and, not for the first time, it occurred to me that only in a Hollywood fiction can I find merriment in that kind of chaotic holiday gathering. In reality, a holiday season like the one on Christmas Vacation would be a waking nightmare: The throngs of guests, the crowded rooms, the clanging music, the clatter of cooking and serving, and the cacophony of screaming kids and barking dogs is more than an introvert like me can bear. It isn’t that such gatherings are innately bad, it’s simply not an experience an introvert can survive.

The good news is: The gods, to whom I am eternally grateful, gave me a family of introverts, so the quiet holidays I love have been less the exception than the rule. In fact, it was in the company of my fellow introverts, that I experienced the best Christmas of my life.

Ojibway Lake

Ojibway Lake

In December 1997 we decided to depart the commercial bombardment of modern life and retreat to the North Woods of Minnesota, for Christmas completely off the grid. We rented a remote cabin, accessible only by snowshoe, dogsled, or cross-country skis. Twenty miles from the town of Ely and four miles from the nearest road, our cabin on Lark Lake was the perfect backdrop for a Christmas with no strings attached. Our only source of power was propane, which fueled the lamps, stove, and refrigerator. We had bottled water to drink and to use in cooking, but wash water had to be dipped from a hole in the foot-thick ice on the lake. We had no plumbing, so an outhouse met those needs, and the wood-fired sauna next to the cabin offered a soul-cleansing way to freshen up at the end of day. No phones, no internet, and no television gave us sanctuary from the barrage of Christmas merchandising while the short-wave radio that sat in the window offered us access to music from around the world.

Crossing Triangle Lake

Crossing Triangle Lake

Our journey began on December 21st, the Winter Solstice. After gathering supplies at  Zup’s grocery store, we drove twenty miles out “The Fernberg” to Ojibway Lake. There we met our host, Steve Lampman, who had his snow-machine ready to take our heavier supplies across the frozen lakes to the cabin. We followed Steve’s tracks 4 miles across Ojibway and Triangle Lakes, to Lark Lake. The winter sun was pale as it shone down on the sheen of ice and snow and all around us was silence, glorious, luminous silence. This was not the quiet of a winter evening at home, this was The Great Silence – the phenomenon naturalist and Ely-resident Sigurd Olson described as, “…more than quiet, something that had no beginning or end, the great primeval hush the land once knew.”  Not only had we left the world behind, we had entered a new world, a place as sacred as the manger on a Christmas long ago.

We walked along in silence, lost in our own thoughts on this mystical place, but as we reached the center of Ojibway, my sister-in-law, Kindra looked down at our icy path and whispered, “We’re walking on water.” We stopped and took in the depth of what Kindra had observed. It was clear that this was going to be no ordinary Christmas.

Lark Lake Cabin

Lark Lake Cabin

As we crossed the last portage, through the woods between Triangle and Lark Lake, we say our cabin, tucked away among the balsam and fir trees. The propane lamps glowed warmly in the gathering dark and the little wood-stove had things warm and toasty inside. The heat of the stove drew out the fragrance of the pine logs that made the walls of the cabin and filled our need for a Christmas tree to celebrate the season. Out on the lake, the sunset turned the snow to pink, then violet before sinking beneath the horizon. Longest Night was upon us and we honored the ancient rituals of the Solstice with good food, good wine, and the love of family. It was a night I wished would never end.

Wolf Track

Wolf Track

Over the next few days, we settled into the Great Silence, our spirits buoyed by the absence of television, ringing telephones, and automobiles speeding along the highway. The only sounds were the wind in the pines and the occasional call of a raven. One afternoon, we heard wolves howling nearby and though a chill ran up my spine, I have never been more thrilled. We had seen the wolves’ huge footprints on the lake that morning, so we knew the pack was nearby and though I sensed a primordial fear of the big predators rise, it was quickly tempered by the exhilaration of walking on the same ground as wild wolves. For one brief moment, I had a connection with the big greys and I was overcome with joy.

To be continued….

Arwen’s Choice

If I had a blog, today I would write about living through grief.

Winter Sun Over Mockingbird Hill

Winter Sun Over Mockingbird Hill

Living through grief is a journey through shades of gray. After the first blackness, into which we plunge when we experience loss, the pain eases and we come to rest in a place somewhere between pain and joy. Days pass softly, without the demands of desire, the need for excitement, or the drive of creativity to shatter our cocoon. If life permits us to submit to this lassitude, I think it is part of the return from grief, the journey back to a bright and joyful life.

Since Owain’s death, I have struggled to do more than get out of bed in the morning. I do my chores, my office work, and even take my photographs, but there is no energy behind my daily round. I’m not devastated anymore, I just don’t want to “feel” right now. I find comfort in a life without peaks and valleys, where I work and rest, eat and sleep, and demand nothing more of my battered soul.

November Woods

November Woods

In The Lord of the Rings, JRR Tolkien writes of Arwen Evenstar, immortal elf maiden, who fell in love with a mortal man and, instead of following her people to the Undying Lands, she stayed in Middle Earth with her beloved, King Aragorn. After Lord Aragorn’s death, Arwen returned to the now abandoned Elvish kingdom Lothlorien. Tolkien writes, But Arwen went forth from the House, and the light of her eyes was quenched, and it seemed to her people that she had become cold and grey as nightfall in winter that comes without a star…she went out from the city of Minas Tirith and passed away to the land of Lórien, and dwelt there alone under the fading trees until winter came. Galadriel had passed away and Celeborn also was gone, and the land was silent.

There at last when the mallorn-leaves were falling, but spring had not yet come, she laid herself to rest upon Cerin Amroth; and there is her green grave, until the world is changed, and all the days of her life are utterly forgotten by men that come after, and elanor and niphredil bloom no more east of the Sea.

We who choose to give ourselves to an animal make Arwen’s choice: We give our heart, the entirety of our love, to one who will, most likely, precede us in death by many years. We are willing to love completely, all the while knowing the passing of our beloved will, for a time, bring us pain.

The coming of winter is a mirror of my mood this year. I don’t believe I could survive the flash and dash of summer or face the coming of new life that happens in spring. Right now, I am as mellow as the pale sun shining in my window, as somber as the leafless trees. It feels good to follow the year as it winds down towards its end. Like the circle of the year, I will come back to color and light, but now I am comforted by the sense of finality that the end of the year brings. For now, I am happy living in shades of gray until the day I am ready to make Arwen’s choice and fall in love all over again.

The Lesson of the Leaves

If I had a blog, today I would write about the dance of falling leaves.

The Dance of the Leaves

The Dance of the Leaves

As I walk in the forest on these brisk, November days, I am witness to the dance of oak, maple, walnut, and ash leaves as they tumble from sky to earth in a joyful ballet, a swan-song for golden days of autumn.  A few weeks ago, as I set out on my evening walk, a single oak leaf drifted across my path and landed silently on a dried weed stem.  The leaf was ragged and torn: unlovely in comparison with the still-perfect maple, dogwood, and walnut leaves that lay beneath it on the forest floor. How was it, I marveled, that this tattered leaf had the courage to dance from the heavens as if it were whole, unmarred, and beautiful? Wasn’t it aware how different it was from those that had fallen before?

A Single Leaf

A Single Leaf

As I pondered the courage of that solitary leaf, it occurred to me the leaves have learned a lesson that eludes most of humankind. For all our intelligence, we have yet to realize what the leaves have always known: Our value to the world lies not in our degree of perfection or similarity to others of our kind, but rather in the unique individual we are.

Humanity is obsessed with perfection.  Somewhere in our evolutionary journey, we have come to believe that there is an ideal we are all striving for—a sort of human template we must fit into to be considered whole, good, and acceptable. When we don’t fit that template, we chastise ourselves and struggle to be rid of the things that make us unique. We want to be “normal.” We want to fit in and see ourselves as part of a whole, but the irony is, that we, like the leaves, are each created with a beautiful individuality—a uniqueness that is our strength, our glory, our priceless gift to the world.

From the time they emerge from the bud in the growing light of spring, every leaf is a little different from its kindred. Some are short and some are long; some are perfectly symmetrical while others are misshapen; some are smooth and unblemished and some are brittle and full of holes and tears. Leaves, like humans, are all related, yet none of them are exactly the same. The difference is: The leaves don’t care. They don’t strive to be perfect or waste their lives trying to become something they are not. Instead, they take part in the dance of life—giving shade the forest floor, sheltering creatures great and small,  and cleansing the air that gives life to the earth. It is a lesson we would do well to learn.

What a difference it would make if, rather than striving to be “normal,” we spent our lives celebrating our wonderful diversity. Some of us are born to be solitary—a single leaf floating to the earth like a dancer alone on the stage, while others will fall to earth in a gleeful jumble— swift and free, like partners in a country dance. Some leaves will let go of their mother-tree early in the autumn, while others will hold on to the last moment, letting go on that perfect winter morning when its edges are silver with frost. There is no “right” or “wrong” in such decisions, only what comes naturally. That is the lesson of the leaves: be the individuals we were born to be, live every moment with joy and never question who we are. We were created in the image of something greater and more beautiful that the human mind can comprehend and we must embrace our authentic selves, revel in our eccentricities, and celebrate the glorious beings we are.

The Quiet Season

If I had a blog, today I would write about the gifts that lie hidden in the leaf-bare November woods.

The Quiet Season

The Quiet Season

Over the weekend we had our first hard freeze. We’ve had a few chilly nights lately, but last night was the real thing: Twenty-three degrees; a certified hard freeze. Now the last hint of green in the pastures and fence-rows will turn to golden and the landscape will stretch before us like a somnolent brown beast, drowsing in the mellow sun. From now until spring, the only color will be the ruby red of rose hips and holly berries alongside the crimson and orange of ripened bittersweet.

I like this time of year, even though it is harder to find great photo-ops, but the dearth of stunning subject matter brings a type of relief. Now I have to concentrate, take my time, and become one with the land in hopes it will guide me to one of its hidden gems, resting among the crisp, brown leaves.

The Feather

The Feather

A few years ago I was on my Journey to the Solstice and came upon the feather of a great-horned owl, caught in the bare branches of a redbud tree. The pale sun lit the feather from behind, giving it a light of its own, as if a candle shone from within. I took several photos, then brought the feather home. It rests in my library now, reminding me of that day and the gifts that await those who are mindful as they enter the forest. Had the feather been dropped a month earlier, among the scarlet dogwood and golden hickory trees, I doubt I would have seen it, my mind filled with things bright and showy. It took a day without many options to bring the beauty of my feather to the fore.

In this season of thanksgiving, I am most thankful for this quiet time between autumn and the coming of the snow. It inspires me to look at the familiar with a different eye, to see more in a landscape that offers less. This is a time for listening, for watching, and for contemplating, for now the voice of Nature is most clear. As I take my evening walk up the lane or to the barn, I will be attuned to the whispering wind and unadorned trees. I am here, ready to receive the gifts that only the quiet season can bring.