Archive for the ‘beauty’ Category


April 17, 2020

It’s a compulsion I haven’t been able to indulge in for at least five years.

I realize this isn’t the greatest picture.  My tiny flip-phone, which already doesn’t take amazing pictures, downsized the image when I sent it.  Bah!

My obsession with morel hunting began in 2005.  I’d returned to Virginia the previous year and was working with a co-worker whose husband’s family had farmed along the mountains of what would come to be known as Shenandoah National Park.

When she shared this helpful rule, I was hooked:

“When the poplar leaves are the size of squirrel’s ears, it’s time to start hunting merkels.”

squirrel ear sized poplar leaf

We didn’t find morels that year although we raced through various landscapes trying to locate what we imagined would be the perfect environment for them.  That was part of the problem:  racing.  When you’re hunting for morels, you have to allow the world to narrow to four or five feet and slow to a glacial crawl.  What I recall of that first attempt was how we would crane our heads up to check if we were walking beneath tulip poplar trees and then look down at the forest floor.  It’s a surprising that we didn’t hurt ourselves during these dizzying tries, but we were younger then.

Another friend and I literally stumbled over morels 3 years later.  We ended up harvesting so many morels that I don’t really ever need to eat another one.  One night my boyfriend was late (again) to dinner so I ate the entire pound of morels in cream over croissants as a sort of revenge.  (see previous note on being younger)

These days, pandemic or no, I’m simply grateful for the gift the forest gives when a perfect morel reveals itself, its giggling barely muffled.  After a long winter and before the crowded vivacity of summer, the woods are a special domain, giving me the chance to stretch my muscles – slowly – and thrill in the signs of renewed life.  One of my favorite John Muir quotations captures this uniquely human understanding:

In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.

guardian spirits

I remember you

March 31, 2020
apple blossoms

apple blossoms blooming at Monticello

After last week’s snow, the tall daffodils that had just begun to open were left with their sweet open faces pressed toward the earth.

When I’d lived in Ivy, there were masses of daffodils all over the 18 acre property.  As my cats George, Bandit and I took our walks, Bandit would sneak behind the masses of green stalks in order to effect pouncing manuevers upon hapless George.  He’d perfected the Daffodil Bandit act a few years earlier, when we lived in town, repeatedly assaulting my old gal Clarabelle in this manner during her last spring.  One wanted to scold him, and did try, but there was something so hilarious in the entire set-up and execution, as if Wile E Coyote had come east and had to work with something other than dynamite, anvils, and precipitous cliffs.

In a quasi-heartbreaking moment, days before the snow, I saw George crouched out by the daffodils.  I wondered if there was some memory in his heart of his friendly nemesis.

After the snow, seeing the bowed daffodils, I went out to cut some.  Over the three  springs I’d lived in Ivy I’d hated seeing my landlady’s visitors do this.  It seemed so pointless.  Why couldn’t they just appreciate them in situ? But now, watching their descent toward the earth, it seemed the only sure way to continue enjoying them.  As I type this, they are beaming their innocent, yellow cheer at me.  Bringing them in didn’t only lighten my interior visual field, however.  By sitting so closely to them, I have noted for the first time their light but distinct fragrance.

Of course, George, if I could ask and he could answer, would be able to tell me this.  Surely it was the scent of the flowers that triggered his memory of his best friend.  How silly to think animals can’t remember love, that they can’t feel the seasons shifting and recall happiness.

Spring is a particular pitfall for me.  The very energy that the buds must summon in order to break into flower and leaf challenges me to rise to the occasion.  To be a passive observer seems preferable at moments like this.  How easy it is to marvel at the beauty and leave it at that?  But my conscience won’t allow me to remain stuck in the contradiction of quarreling with the various screwed up elements of the status quo and doing nothing to change it.

The global shutdown occurring at this moment appears to me as a logical consequence of a human economy based on the wrong values.  Here we can apply the image of our pal Wile E Coyote again, running over the cliff and into the air until he looks down to see nothing is truly supporting him.  I have wished for a righting of this ecological and spiritual wrong for a long time without being able to comprehend how devastating the consequences would be for everyone, me included.

So … an additional level of contradiction to wiggle myself out of like Houdini with his handcuffs, chains, boxes, and what-have-you.  The quality I long to develop for myself, as the rug of ordinariness has been pulled out from under me and change is rumbling, is patience.  It takes, after all, a long time not only to change one’s self but to change the world.  Many won’t survive the changing and most people will fight it tooth-and-nail.  The seasons will come and go and those of us who remain will remember this time and what came before.  What will stop us in our tracks and take us through columns of time in the blink of an eye or the inhalation of a scent will be memories of love.

autumn song

September 26, 2019

Out of a kind of desperation to avoid rifling through the list of my personal woes, I’ve started reading a copy of Virginia Woolf’s Moments of Being I purchased from the friends of Richmond County Library a month ago.  I was drawn to it since it was the first collection of Virginia Woolf’s writing I acquired some few years earlier than my senior year at UC Berkeley where/when I would write my honors thesis on The Waves.  I think it was the title which, combined with the patina of Woolf’s high-brow literary rep, drew the “young” me to purchasing it those many decades past, although I can’t recall feeling much affinity with her writing at the time.

What is ringing through me now is a section from her “A Sketch of the Past.”

From this I reach what I call a philosophy; at any rate it is a constant idea of mine; that behind the cotton wool is hidden a pattern; that we – I mean all human beings – are connected with this; that the whole world is a work of art; that we are parts of the work of art.  Hamlet or a Beethoven quartet is the truth about this vast mass that we call the world.  But there is no Shakespeare, there  is no Beethoven; certainly and emphatically there is no God; we are the words; we are the music; we are the thing itself.

Awake this morning sometime around 5:30, I went out to greet the Moon & Regulus rising over the river.  As I sat with my 2 black cats in the dark, I was entranced by the songs of the night insects.  I thought of how few the days and hours that they have left before winter arrives.  That they know or don’t doesn’t signify:  they sing because they are here.  They are the music, while they’re on Earth, just as we are.  When one – or all – are finished, the next generation will take up the singing.  A listener such as myself may not notice the relay, but that act too is part of the symphony.

Over three decades ago to this very day, I began a friendship that most likely will not last another year’s journey around our modest sun.  What the insects’s song reminds me, however, is that my friend’s magic existed in the world before he arrived.  It awaited him to take up his role in weaving the song, to make his contribution, and it will be carried on by another after he is gone.  What is most precious about him – what compelled me to treasure him from the moment we met and to continue despite the ups-and-downs of our complicated relations – cannot disappear because it is inseparable from the essence of beauty and truth in this world and cannot be lost.

Of course, my sadness is ultimately, and embarrassingly, for myself.  My inability to grasp what chords I am going to contribute becomes more apparent when I view my life through the lens of my friend’s imminent passing.  Such questions as what will my song be and how much time will I have once I have found my voice tug me into wakefulness and push me out-of-doors at strange hours into the only world we have ever – and will ever – know.

A trick of light

April 28, 2018

a good omen

A post I wrote years ago was about rainbows.  A friend had given me a crystal pieced out from a chandelier, and when the sunlight hit, small rainbows would dance across the surrounding surfaces.  On sunny days, Bandit would tire himself chasing them; on cloudy days, he sit morose, troubled for a reason he couldn’t quite identify.  My post ended with the proclamation, “yes, Bandit, there will be rainbows.”  It’s a phrase I’ve thought of again and again over the many years, cloudy and sunny.

In this beautiful location where I’ve been privileged to nest for almost 7 months, the same crystal, hanging from a east-facing french door, has brought me many rainbows.  That I have struggled with many demons during this time of solitude is an understatement.  Yet each time I see those bouncing dots of refracted light, I think of Bandit’s joy, which for me represents a total commitment of being in the moment that is the gift of incarnation.

George and I will be leaving today.  We will be going to a place that will challenge us both in ways we currently cannot imagine.  I am hoping, for both of our sake’s, that we will find strength in knowing that even during our lowest moments what is best in ourselves and in others is also present.  Last night’s lovely rainbow over the Potomac seems a good harbinger for our new adventures.



At the river’s edge

October 15, 2017

After becoming acquainted with the ravens out west, I find the eastern crows as tiny as grackles.  Still they’re courageously obstreperous.  Outsized by the bald eagle perched on the branches of the hickory outside my window, they still insist on its immediately withdrawal.

Don’t get me wrong:  I love the bald eagles.  I can’t believe that I can sit here at the dining room table and watch them wheel through the sky or hop across the lawn that stretches down to the bluff over the Potomac.  Wherever I am in the house, I can hear their cascading cries.  This domain of water and raptors is a kingdom I’ve never known.

The crows, on the other hand, have always been with us, like the poor as the adage goes.  Like their cousins the ravens, they are among the smartest animals.  But its their bravery that’s catching my attention these days.  Sure, they know there’s strength in numbers, so they noisily call in their confederates as they make their cries for eviction, but even before the first reinforcement arrives, I see one tiny crow hopping across the branches toward that massive raptor and wonder what he thinks the odds are.

Power comes in all shapes and sizes.  Most often the destructive power we perceive, the power that threatens to crush us, isn’t emanating from one person, place, or thing.  It could be the institution that person represents or a bogey man we’ve built up in our own mental or bodily memory banks.  Someone, or a host of somebodies, who treated us as insignificant in just the same way and once again we are as powerless as we felt during that first, formative encounter.  The story of Brer Rabbit and the Tar Baby is one that reminds me of how I need to be careful about wrestling with demons I perceive when all they are are sticky messes dressed up in tattered clothes.

Not all power is bad.  The eagles need every ounce of their power to survive.  So do people.  It’s when power is wielded without compassion or for the charge of watching someone vulnerable squirm that it’s reprehensible.  My former landlady wrote out an imagined dialogue as a cue card to help choreograph the event when she decided to end our rental arrangement.  It was like a bad scene spoken by a James Bond villain.  She imagined me whimpering at the news that in 2 weeks time I and my cat would have no where to live:  “Where will I go?” I was supposed to say.  Her response to my caterwauling confusion:  “It would have been wise to have had a plan B before you chose to defy the landlady.”

I’ll never be exactly sure what kind of deranged thinking was involved in her scenario, but it’s become clear over the past 3 weeks that it partakes in a degree of paranoia & bullying that’s rampant in the National Park Service.  I realize that in some ways I’ve participated in dressing up the bogeyman.  My parents’ early dismissal of my capabilities left me searching for validation through my job performance, awaiting recognition through the authority invested in a supervisor who may have received his or her position not through merit but through simple elimination of more worthy candidates.  Once I take away the hat and coat and refuse to wrestle with a ball of tar, however, I can only get so dirty.  I will preserve my power, persevere, and one day achieve my own victories.

At this moment in my life, I guess the crow-bald eagle tussle seems refreshingly free of the destructive properties of human fear.  I can wonder at a spectacle that has played out along these shores long before the first humans arrived and will continue long after I am gone.  Like so much in the natural world, it gives me hope that I will find what’s true and essential in myself and find others who have done the same work and have their own gifts to offer.  On a grey Sunday morning in mid-October, looking north across one of the world’s great rivers, it’s what comforts.


Of herons and hermits

September 9, 2017

Too often my new landlady behaves like a scared bird.  When a creature is scared, it forgets all knowledge of itself, reacting only to the demands of survival.  The voice of accumulated wisdom that might chart an easier path can’t be heard above the din of raucous fear.

I guess I’m thinking in terms of birds more now that I’ve moved to the shore of the Potomac.  Wide and brackish with the salt water riding up the Chesapeake, the river draws life with which I’ve yet to become familiar.  Sure, I’ve seen bald eagles in Virginia and in Yellowstone, ducks and gulls everywhere, and even blue herons most recently who roosted in the field adjoining my adobe in northern New Mexico.  But here they have a presence that quickens my attention more than the transplanted retirees and natives who’ve never left this sleepy small tourist town.

The past 2 mornings, under clear-ish skies, I’ve ventured out well before dawn to watch Venus, Mercury, Mars, and Regulus rise.  While I skipped seeing the totality of the solar eclipse from fear of the crowds and have so far been cursed not to see the aurora borealis, I’ll be damned if I won’t drag my ass out of bed to at least glimpse Mercury before it starts to slip below the horizon.  Today I stopped beneath the shadow of an oak, straining my eyes east as the approaching dawn began to tint the horizon.  The houses behind me were mostly dark, and only the wind provided sound and movement.  Then that changed.  The darkness next to me shift slightly and I realized I wasn’t the only sentinel awaiting dawn.  Some 20 feet away from me was a blue heron who accepted my company silently.  The two of us stood as close to each other as humans and birds can be expected, sharing the same primeval impulse to gather ourselves in order to face the day.

When my landlady reacts, when she makes declarative statements and implicit commands, I think of how she’s reacting to a threat that’s echoing from her dim past, not from what’s in front of her.  No matter her insistence on Jesus’s love protecting her from colds and other disasters, what her behavior suggests is that she’s afraid this putative boundless protection will dissolve in an instant and she’ll be left alone and defenseless.  She hoards food, clothes, tchotchkes, photographs and other souvenirs of her past as if it will keep her safe.

I’m far from the calmest person in the world, and the force of her fear has thrown me off center enough times that I’ve gotten angry, mostly at myself, for forgetting what I know matters.  Still when I retreat from her clamor and get right with myself, mostly in the middle of night, I remember what I’ve learned about the importance of stillness, and this gives me just enough strength to handle the stresses of the day ahead.

I did a tarot card reading soon after I arrived here.  My journey back to Virginia involved one major disaster, small disappointments, and a lot of exhaustion, and I arrived to a situation I’m not sure I would have signed onto if I’d known all the details.  In the middle of my reading was The Hermit, with the card that followed being the High Priestess.  How dispirited I was, learning that once again my life would comprise solitude and self-reflection.  But when a site I go to often suggested that one must be alone with one’s self (The Hermit) in order to access the wisdom offered by the High Priestess, I tried to reconcile myself to more deep journeying.

This morning, bidding good day to the heron, I returned to face my landlady’s impending clamors and the stresses of my new work situation with another image to set beside that of The Hermit.  A blue heron awaiting dawn, full of the knowledge of what it means to be itself, giving another the space to stand quietly by and know herself.