For the Love of Little Chickens

If I had a blog, today I would write about my love of the farmstead chicken.

06092005_223627I met my first chicken in an ambulance. I was twelve and newly diagnosed with insulin-dependent diabetes. I had the flu and, back then, in the late 1970’s, if I couldn’t eat, I had to go to the hospital for IV’s. My doctor was two hours away (the joys of rural living), so away I went with Mom by my side.

Just as we were going out the door, the phone rang. It was Dad, calling from nearby Rolla to say my baby chickens had just been delivered to his dental clinic and were cheeping away in his private office. I was bereft. I’d waited for two months for the arrival of my baby Buff Orpingtons and I couldn’t believe I was going to miss this sacred moment because of the flu. The EMT wheeled me out to the ambulance and Mom followed a few minutes later. I was weeping quietly when I noticed we weren’t on the Interstate. We were in Rolla, pulling up to the back door of Dad’s office. A few seconds later, Dad appeared, bearing a box full of twenty-five cheeping fluff-balls. The EMT’s all gathered ’round as Dad handed me one of the chicks. I was crying again, but this time it was for joy. I thanked Mom for this gift, but she told me it was the driver’s idea. He’d said once my IV was in, we had time for a stop. I wanted to kiss him, but instead I handed him a chick. He was crying too.

Michael_0023 web

When I came home from the hospital a few days later, Mom let me move their brooder-box in my bedroom. I spent hours at a time sitting next to my little flock, caressing the golden carpet of chick-dom that would now be the center of my life. Our yellow Lab, Michael, often sat with me and together, we got to know the baby Buffs as individuals.

 

Julie and ChicksThe first chick I named was called, “Friend.” It was a simple name but it said it all. From the start, this little hen sought me out and enjoyed sitting on my shoulder, cuddled up against my neck. I often wondered if she was the chick I held on the day of their arrival, but regardless, she remained my companion for the rest of her long life.

As time progressed, other chicks made names for themselves. There was Moshe, who only had one eye. I named her for Moshe Dyan, the Foreign Minister of Israel who was also partially blind. There was Crocus, who grew into the most maternal hen I ever had. She would accept any chick from any hen and one year, when several hens failed to be good mothers, Crocus ended up with twenty-one chicks. She was determined to get them all under her wings at night and as the chicks grew, they lifted Crocus off the ground when they settled in for bedtime.

Old Farm House0012Over the course of my life there have been many special roosters and hens, of all sizes and of all breeds and they have made my life complete. Chickens are gentle creatures who radiate happiness. Listening to a mother hen calling her chicks to a juicy worm, watching my happy girls scratch in fresh straw, or sitting in the twilight, listening to the lilting night-song of chickens going to roost has lifted my spirits on even the hardest days.

10162012 164625 webI have been without chickens for almost a year now and it has been a long haul. My hen house sits quietly on its grassy lawn, waiting to see whether we will stay or go. For a time, we thought we wanted a change, a life after farming with leisure time and freedom from the routine of daily chores, but, as it turns out, farming is hard to get out of your blood and we’ve decided to stay.

Tonight I will go down and tell my chicken house to make ready, for the girls are coming home, and the song of the hen will resound from her walls once again.

 

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A Light in Dark Places

If I had a blog, today I would write about the lifeline that has sustained me during some of my darkest hours. Today I would write about the inspiring words of others.

Books - LightThe most important thing I have ever read came to me just before I started college. I was at loose ends the summer before I left home for the first time. It was 1990 and libraries were still the end-all-be-all for avid readers so I spent my days haunting the stacks for good distractions. On one of my expeditions, I found a book called Light From Many Lamps by Lilian Eichler Watson. It was a collection of quotes, poems, and passages from Ms. Watson’s favorite literary works and I was, in a word, captivated.

Part of the book’s allure had to do with the fact that I had been collecting the same kind of quotes since I was ten years old. I got the idea from my dad, who also kept a quote book, and by the time I entered college, my collection filled several journal-sized books. I had everything from Robert Frost, to JRR Tolkien, to Ronald Reagan and I treasured those passages as if they had come from the Oracle at Delphi herself. I knew the words of others spoke to me, but until I found Light From Many Lamps, I had never considered making those words my own.

Light From Many Lamps introduced me to a new concept, a way of using poetry and prose that went beyond mere recollection and preservation: The book encouraged me to commit favorite passages to memory and use them as a light when life’s path grew dark. I took Ms. Watson’s words to heart and, over the years, I have used these  passages as incantations against fear, loneliness, and despair.

books invictusThe first poem I memorized was, Invictus, by William Ernest Henley. During my first year in college, when I was homesick, I repeated this poem over and over and it gave me the courage to go on. The poem took on new meaning twenty-five years later when I learned it was a mantra of hope for Nelson Mandela during his thirty years in prison on Robben Island.

books-frostThese are by no means the only words I hold dear to my heart. If I were to count them, they would stagger the imagination. I love Emily Dickinson’s Hope is a Thing With Feathers, Robert Frost’s Stopping By Woods on A Snowy Evening, selections from Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Narnia, and countless passages from naturalists like Sigurd Olson, John Muir, John Burroughs, and Anne Morrow Lindbergh, just to name a few.

These men and women are my heroes and through their stories, I find my own. Their poetry, prose, and songs, are my battle cry when I face the dark unknown, my shout of victory when obstacles are overcome, and my whispered prayers when my own words fail. In knowing their words, I am never alone. Indeed, I am in the company of the gods.

Invictus

Out of the night that covers me,                                                                                                                          Black as the pit from pole to pole.                                                                                                                              I thank whatever gods may be                                                                                                                                For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance,                                                                                                                             I have not winced or cried aloud.                                                                                                                     Under the bludgeoning of chance,                                                                                                                      My head is bloodied but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears,                                                                                                        Looms but the horrors of the shade.                                                                                                                    And yet the menace of the years                                                                                                                          Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how straight the gate,                                                                                                                  How charged with punishments the scroll.                                                                                                          I am the master of my fate, the captain of my soul.

The Greatest Gift

If I had a blog, today I would write about the greatest gift a human can receive.

Miranda

Miranda

Not long ago, I thought I was out of the Crazy Cat Lady business for good. Last November, when my puppy, Gus, fractured his shoulder, I gave my two house cats to a friend, leaving me with one barn cat, Miranda. Miranda is thirteen years old and while she’s friendly, she prefers to send her love from a distance rather than be cuddled or petted.

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Francie

 

Then, sometime in May, Francie showed up. She was thin and her long hair was matted and tangled. She wasn’t afraid of me, but not tame enough to groom. I fed her every day in hopes I could eventually catch her and get her to the vet. I was sure she was a female and the last thing I wanted was a barn full of feral kittens.

 

 

As our rapport grew, I began to miss the quiet presence of my house cats. I didn’t regret giving them up, but the Crazy Cat Lady in me had a longing she couldn’t quite shake. That’s when I had the dream:

About two weeks ago, I had a dream where I was in the presence of lions, tigers, leopards, and cheetahs. I was on the Serengeti in a Land Rover watching a female lion when my transport changed to something more like a dune buggy without doors. The lion kept following me and tried to get in my vehicle. I had to floor the gas to get to my compound, where I would be safe. It was a close call, but I zoomed through the gates just in the nick of time.

As I always do, I looked up the symbols in my dream to see what meaning they might have. I looked up lions et al and gleaned the following:

To see a cat in your dreams is to highlight your independent spirit, creativity and power. Take note of what the cat is doing and perhaps find ways to emulate what it is trying to show you about yourself. Fearing the cat is in essence the fear of your own power. The cat beckons us to realize that when we turn within to our own hearts, minds and souls, and trust in ourselves we will always be shown the truth of matters.

The dream resonated where I was having struggles expressing my artistic talent. I wasn’t afraid of the gift, just of using it. If I listened to my heart, though, I would forge on and trust that I needed to stay with my art: My writing, painting, and photography, taking firm hold of the belief that one day, my work would be a career. I also took heart in the feeling that one day, I would have cats in my life again. I just didn’t know it meant it would happen within twenty-four hours.

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Greystoke

The morning after my dream, I went out to feed Miranda and Francie and I saw another feline slipping into the Cat Room. I hoped it wasn’t a male, come to meet Francie’s feminine needs, but when I looked in, I saw the interloper was a big, black-and-white kitten and his three siblings: A calico, a silver tabby, and a grey kitten with a white nose. Francie had pulled a fast one.

 

The best I can figure, Francie had been at the barn for longer than I knew and she’d had her kittens right under my nose. Being a good mother, she kept her babies hidden until they were up and going on their own and now, eight weeks later, she was ready to introduce them to the world.

Naturally, all my negative thoughts about feral kittens vanished at the sight of Francie’s brood. They were utterly terrified of me, of course, but I didn’t want them gone, I wanted to make them my friends and the socializing began.

Every morning I go to the barn, set out five dishes of loud-smelling canned cat food, sit on the floor of the Cat Room and wait. Some mornings all four kittens come out from behind the vet cabinet and sometimes they creep in one at a time. I can tell their fear is giving away to curiosity, most of which I attribute to their mom.

Francie has been a doll. After she eats, she comes over to me to be caressed and brushed. Yesterday, the grey kitten (Greystoke) followed Francie and came within a foot of me. This morning, after Francie came over for loving, she headed out and left the kittens alone with me. At first they looked askance at me, but then they relaxed into eating, grooming, and playing. I am hoping they will let me take their photo in the near future, but for now, they prefer to remain incognito.

For me, there is nothing more rewarding than earning the trust of an animal. We don’t speak the same language, in most cases I am a giant in their world, and I come from a predator species. In short, there is no reason these kittens should trust me. If I can project the empathy and compassion I have for them without human devices like speech, it tells me I am the kind of person I want to be. If my being radiates love, then I am a success, worthy of the greatest gift in the world.

 

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His Name Shall Be Augustus

If I had a blog, today I would write about the little, golden ball of light that has just entered my life.

Little Loaves of Love

Little Loaves of Love

On January 15, 2015, my life changed forever. On January 15,  my new best friend was born: His name is Gus and he’s a yellow lab. For the first six weeks, all I knew was that Gus was one of three yellow males born to Christmas Holly at the home of Misty Woods Labradors. Right from the start I knew I’d chosen a good breeder. Gus and his siblings (both yellow and black) were the sweetest little “loaves of love” I’d ever seen.

Gus at two weeks

Gus at two weeks

Puppies are born with eyes closed and their early first weeks are spent nursing and sleeping. If I’d lived closer to the breeder, Tammy Johnston, I would have visited every day just to hold those precious new lives in my arms and soak in the love. As it was, Tammy posted weekly photos of the brood and it was thrilling to see the changes taking place.

 

Gus at 3 1/2 Weeks

Gus at 3 1/2 Weeks

I picked the name Gus in honor of Augustus McCray, a character in Larry McMurtry’s book, Lonesome Dove. Gus was a scalawag and a ladies’ man, but he had passion for life and a heart of gold – the things that make Labs such wonderful companions. I told Tammy I wanted a confident dog, one who would enjoy being my companion at home, in the car, and on our farm. Tammy told me the pups’ personalities would begin to develop at four to five weeks and she would find the right match.

Gus the Show Dog

Gus the Show Dog

Tammy took my requests to heart and on March 2nd, one of Holly’s boys traded his baby name (Maroon Boy, for the color of the ribbon tied around his neck) for the name of Augustus. According to Tammy, Gus was fearless and in love with life. She thought he would love life as farm dog as and make a great companion. It sounded like a match made in Heaven.

Augustus the Wise

Augustus the Wise

On Monday morning (March 16th), we met Tammy in Rolla, a pit-stop for her as she and one of her adult labs went to the St. Louis area for a show. As we pulled into the parking lot by Wal-Mart we saw her sitting on the grassy hillside, cuddling the most beautiful Labrador puppy I had ever seen. It was love at first sight!

 

Gus on his first day home.

Gus on his first day home.

Now, as Day Four of my Life With Gus begins, I am still in awe that I was chosen to be his person. Every day he becomes more handsome, more intrepid, and more fun to be with. Like all little creatures, Gus requires a lot of attention – day and night – so I’m a little sleep deprived and I have some scrapes and bruises from his needle-teeth, but I have never been happier! Gus and I are Forever Friends.

Winter Days

If I had a blog, today I would write about The Greenwood in winter.

The Missouri Arctic

The Missouri Arctic

Winter is back. Yesterday’s high was 15 degrees (with 25 mph winds) and today is even colder. The low last night was -2 and we’ll be lucky if we crawl into the teens for a high this afternoon. The snow that fell on Monday is reflecting most of the sun’s warmth back into space, leaving us wrapped in a blanket that offers no warmth. Until the weather breaks, our lives revolve around caring for our animals 24-7; keeping them well-fed and sheltered from the wind and snow.

Rain in the Snow

Rain in the Snow

Yesterday, despite the wind, we let the horses out for the day to stretch their legs and get some fresh air after three days in the barn. Horses are a great source of potential energy and when they are kept up, that energy builds day by day until they can get outside and burn it off. They made quite a spectacle of themselves, running, bucking, and even rolling in the snow; thrilled to be out in the sun and cold. Watching them play like kids on a Snow Day always lifts my spirits; at least someone is enjoying life in the freezer. I don’t really hate the cold weather, but as I get older I tend to adopt the Zen of the Hen instead.

The Zen of the Hen

The Zen of the Hen

Over at the chicken house, the tenor is quite different. My laying hens, rooster, and Ferdinand the duck prefer to stay indoors when snow is on the ground. I opened their door to the coop this morning, but no one wanted to venture out. The hens spent their day on the roost, under their heat lamp, or busy scratching for the dried mealworms I scattered in the straw as a treat. Ferdinand, my fawn and white runner duck, did have to forego his daily bath, but he when he saw his swimming pool had turned into a skating rink, he, too, was content to nestle down in the straw and enjoy winter from afar, alongside his roommate Edward, the Australorp rooster. I promised my boys warmer days will return, but even as I said it, I wondered how many times I’ll make that promise before the cold is through.

The Horse Barn

The Horse Barn

The bulk of our winter chores revolves around cleaning horse stalls. When all five horses are indoors full-time, keeping their quarters clean is an arduous job. While it is easier to scoop frozen “horse apples” and our work is certainly less fragrant this time of year, there is no getting around the fact that it’s plain old hard work. To pass the time, I turned to the mantra I used when backpacking. Most backpackers have a chant they use to distract themselves when hiking up an endless hill or trudging across rugged terrain. I adopted mine from a book I read about a woman who through-hiked the Appalachian Trail. It goes like this: “We are the through-hikers, mighty, mighty through-hikers. Every where we go-oh, people want to know-oh, who we are and so we tell them, ‘We are the through-hikers, mighty, mighty through-hikers…’ ” This encouragement has gotten me to the top of many mountain passes and today, it got me to the end of my task in record time. When I was finally able to stand up straight and stretch my aching back I felt as though I had reached the summit of Everest. Mom and I gave the horses a round of apple-treats, checked in with the barn cats and headed home for lunch in front of the fire. Mission accomplished.

Me

Me

In five hours, it will be chore-time again and we’ll start the lugging, lifting, and loading all over again. Some days I wonder why I chose this life rather than that of a business-woman. I could be sitting behind a desk in a warm office on these bitter mornings, sipping coffee and chatting with clients and co-workers, far removed from the wind that rattles the windows and the curtains of snow that dance across the parking lot, but then I open the barn door and am greeted by a symphony of nickers, clucks, meows, and crows that remind me just how much I am needed by the creatures I love. I might be able to earn more or achieve more at another job, but nowhere on earth could I feel more complete. This is where I belong.

Flakes

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

Me

Me

“What will people think?” If I had a nickel for every time a parent, teacher, or other well-meaning adult sent this phrase my way, I would be a billionaire. While I admit that there is value in considering the consequences of one’s actions, I seems to me that the importance of what other people think weighs too heavily on my mind. Take yesterday, for example: I am in the process of getting a yellow Labrador puppy and, after what I considered “a lot of thought,” decided I’d get a black Lab as well. I emailed the breeder and she was glad the remaining black male would have a good home. Then I shared my plan with some of my more analytical friends and realized I was about to get in over my head. I weighed their cons against my pros and decided I’d better stay with one puppy for now. I was ok with the decision, even though “reason” is a real kill-joy, but I felt physically ill when I realized I’d have to email the breeder and retract my offer. “Oh my God,” I thought, “what on Earth will she think?”

One of the Baby Labs

One of the Baby Labs

As I lay awake trying to compose an email that made me sound realistic rather than indecisive, a new thought occurred to me: What if I really am a flake? What if I stop running from my fear of being exposed as emotional, prone to acting first and thinking later, and (OMG) utterly imperfect? I let this new paradigm float around in my head for quite a while, then decided to make the leap. I got out of bed and posted a simple email: “Hi, after giving my decision some more thought, I realized it would be better for me to have one puppy at a time. I’ll keep my yellow pup and wait to get a black later on. Sorry for the misfire. – Julie.” I still felt queasy, but at least I’d been honest and that felt good.

Mystical Me

Mystical Me

As I’ve gone about my work today, I’ve given this more thought and I think it has real possibilities. I don’t know how I will deal with what comes in the future, but I like the idea of accepting my idiosyncracies and letting them show. I can work on anything that’s giving me problems, but overall, it simplifies my life immensely. This way I am free to fail at things, make mistakes, embarrass myself, and even look stupid in public without the desperate need to cover my tracks and meet the world’s standard of perfection. I am Julie and I’m doing the best I can. What do you think of that?

The Perfect Christmas Eve

If I had a blog, today I would write about my recipe for a perfect Christmas Eve day.

Sawyer - Zen Master of the Nap

Sawyer – Zen Master of the Nap

Throughout the years, I’ve always had trouble knowing what to do with the daytime hours of Christmas Eve. In our family, we actually wait until evening to start our celebration, so the early part of the day can be a little flat. Well, no more. Today I discovered the perfect lead-in to my favorite Eve of the year: Spend the day with cats. There is no creature on this planet that understands the finer points of rest, relaxation, rejuvenation better than a cat and today, I let Sawyer and Claudia Jean set the tempo of my day.

Claudia Jean

Claudia Jean

The three of us got up early and had breakfast, then returned to bed for an hour of luxurious rest. I left the cats curled up among the blankets and did barn chores around 9:00, then returned to the cat-cave for more nourishment of body and soul. After a long bath, with cats sitting on the tub’s edge, basking in the steam, I gave myself a pedicure, put on my comfiest jeans and a favorite shirt, then did a bit web-surfing with Claudia perched on my shoulder like a guardian angel turned gargoyle. She particularly enjoyed the funny cat videos a friend posted on Facebook.

Claudia Working Hard

Claudia Working Hard

By then, it was time for a holiday ice cream cone (shared among the three of us), followed by another rest-period. I plumped up the pillows on my bed, put a heating pad on my back, and snuggled beneath my favorite fleece blanket, the edges held down by my feline friends. We napped and watched a movie, then napped some more. Occasionally I’d feel a bit guilty for doing nothing more than lounging, but one look at the cats, dozing peacefully around me, and my concerns vanished. If the cats’ say its ok to lounge, then its ok to lounge.

Sleep in Heavenly Peace

Sleep in Heavenly Peace

Even though I don’t put much stock in New Year’s resolutions, I am tempted to make “Cat Days” a regular feature in my life this coming year. Cat’s understand something we humans don’t: They are masters of the art of “Don’t sweat the small stuff,” and that is a skill I desperately need to learn. Today, for the first time in ages, I feel relaxed, refreshed, and filled with peace – the things I believe Christmas should bring. Thank you Claudia and Sawyer, for giving me this rarest of gifts – a truly happy Christmas Eve.

 

Longest Night

Snow-Light

Snow-Light

If I had a blog, today I would write about Yule  – The passage of  the Winter Solstice.

Forty-five years, and most of what I remember is light: The mellow gold of sunlight in autumn, the cobalt hue of a snowy morning, the greenish hue after a passing storm, the pink and violet of a summer’s eve, and the welcoming glow of the lights of home. These are the palette upon which my memories are painted and so, on this shortest day of the year, I think it is fitting to share some thoughts on the return of the light.

December 10 - Winter's Tapestry

Endless Twilight

Each year I look forward to the Winter Solstice, to the annual tipping point when the daily loss of light is stopped and the process reversed, bringing us a little more dawn and twilight each day until mid-summer. If there was ever a year when I need the Return of the Light, it is this one. Since the passing of our two canine companions in October, my inner light has been burning low. I get up every day and do my chores, my desk-work, and my errands in town, but it is all in a world as grey as the winter landscape outside my window. Until now, my only resource has been to submit to the perpetual twilight and ride it out as best I can.

The Yule Log

The Yule Log

As we gather around the fire tonight and light the Yule Log – an white oak log draped with juniper boughs, sage, and rosemary, aromatic herbs that symbolize life; with holly and ivy to symbolize the ancient celebration of Yule, and with sunflower seeds to celebrate the return of the sun. As we sprinkle the log with a few drops of wine as a toast to the coming year, then set it alight as a symbol of letting go of the past, I will try to send my sadness skyward with the fragrant smoke and dancing flames. Though my grief will not vanish as the Yule Log turns to embers, perhaps I can draw warmth from the memories of Owain and Hank and let that drive out the darkness of grief.

Celebrating the Light

Celebrating the Light

One more long night and the earth begins to tilt back towards the light. I am ready to reach for the light as well.

Happy Yule to one and all.

Julie

Poor Thanksgiving

If I had a blog, today I would write about the sadness I feel for the Thanksgiving holiday.

Almost Home

Almost Home

I have always felt sorry for Thanksgiving. The sad truth is: It is the bastard child of holidays; the act that precedes the glitz and glam of Christmas as well as the revelry of ringing in the new year. What is a holiday to do when its foundation is in contemplation, not commercialism? Try as they might, the ubiquitous “they” have not been able to turn Thanksgiving into a gift-giving holiday (yet) and I suspect that is why the single aisle dedicated to autumn decor is dwarfed by the countless aisles of toys, ornaments, trees, and prepackaged gifts as soon as the Halloween bric-a-brac is stored away. Aside from the appeal of sanctioned gorging, time off work, and endless televised sporting events, I imagine few would miss Thanksgiving if it disappeared from our calendars altogether. It is just another obstacle in the path to Christmas, and that, my friends, is truly a shame.

At this point, you may be thinking: “Wow, is she cynical or what?” and, I suppose, to a certain extent that is true. Forty-five holiday seasons rubbing my introversion the wrong way certainly shaped my perspective. But it isn’t just cynicism that drives my thoughts. It is also my empathy for the underdogs in life. I actually like the Christmas season a great deal, but I feel a need to give Thanksgiving its due. After all, don’t we owe it to our lives to look for the blessings and thank whatever gods may be for the goodness, however small, that exists in our lives on this one, special day.

My Owain

My Owain

This past year has been a hard one for my family. In the space of a few, short months lost the companionship of three dogs who had shared our lives for more than a decade each. The loss of Emma, Owain, and Hank makes the approach to the holidays a daunting task, but I remain determined to give thanks anyway. If, as I have written before, my heroines, Corrie and Betsy ten Boom, could find reasons to give thanks while imprisoned in a Nazi concentration camp, I can do no less. My pain and grief are nothing compared to theirs and a lack of gratitude on my part would not only be be rude to The Universe, it would also fly in the face of the miracle Corrie and Betsy experienced in that darkest of  all dark places.

Hank

Hank

And so, on this most auspicious day, I give thanks that Hank, Emma, and Owain lived such long, happy lives and that those lives encompassed me and my family. I am thankful that, when the end came, we were able to help our companions slip the “surly bonds of earth” with dignity and make The Crossing without fear or pain. I am oh, so very thankful for Bree, the Great Pyrenees who still resides with us. Bree has risen to the challenge of being an only dog and now accompanies us to the barn twice a day, sleeps by Mom’s bed at night, and is a constant companion in all that we do. At the age of ten, Bree has taken on new life. Just a hint that we’re headed for the barn and she starts dancing in anticipation. No one can be sad in the face of such joy. I am also thankful for my four cats, my beautiful horse, Rain, and, of course, my human family as well. It has been a hard year, but the love we share is a balm to our aching hearts and I give thanks for that love every single day.

Emma

Emma

In closing, I will share with you a quote from Robert Fulghum, that, for me, captures the very essence of the love I wish for everyone this Thanksgiving Day: “I believe that imagination is stronger than knowledge — myth is more potent than history — dreams are more powerful than facts — hope always triumphs over experience — laughter is the cure for grief — love is stronger than death.”

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

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.