Archive for the ‘spring’ 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.

A breakfast feast

April 13, 2018


There is no use trying, said Alice; one can’t believe impossible things. I dare say you haven’t had much practice, said the Queen. . Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.                                               Lewis Carroll

As dawn rose this morning, I greeted a river otter, an osprey, an eagle, and a blue heron and thought of Lewis Carroll’s Queen.  Two hours later, this quotation floated my way.  How many miraculous, impossible things cross our paths as we rush through our lives?


spring rain

April 25, 2017


Although the wind continues, this morning is cloudy and cooler. I can see the mist on the Sandias and know it is raining at 11,000 feet.

I would write that there’s nothing like the scent of rain in the desert except my mind tells me it is remembering. To prove its point, it slips away to search the recesses of its memories so it can compare and contrast, and while it’s absent, I want to grab the world in my fists as one might a shirt that holds the fragrance of a loved one and hold it close to my nose, inhaling its essence to make it part of me for as long as I walk the earth.

Yesterday, searching for clues for how to deal with my overwhelming emotions, I read about the liver. How it’s the seat of anger and resentment I knew. What was new was that courage and will power are its positive expressions. I rushed to rebuke myself: I needed to work harder at taking courageous steps.

This morning, sitting with my coffee and feeling the air, earth, wind, and fire meet in the world around me, my mind returned, unable to match the scent.  Maybe it’s a memory of a future time? Or of this time. And then I was gifted with this thought: sometimes the bravest thing to do is to wait.

springing to life

April 17, 2017

The cottonwoods in the bosque where I walk have leafed.  Their green reflects the sunlight like water.

Down there in the riverbottom, a few old ones appear unable to join this celebration of spring renewing.  They remind me of a dogwood tree I grew to know back in Charlottesville.  Just as with these wild cottonwoods, I had no idea how long this dogwood tree had been planted.  Many of the plants had found their way into this yard only at the gardener’s behest, but dogwoods being native in Virginia, this one might have been preserved from the original woods the owners had fashioned according to their tastes more than 60 years earlier.

When I first grew acquainted with this dogwood, I noticed the scars that told of how often it had been pruned, a sign someone had tended it carefully.  It stood alone, protected beneath the towering shade of a hemlock, some white pines, and tulip poplars, its base uncluttered by groupings of azaleas or rhododendrons or the vinca that had long slipped the gardener’s controlling hand.  That first spring, it bloomed later than the younger specimens, but eventually it offered a respectable number of four-petaled pink flowers to the general riot of color.  The next spring, however, it was looking less capable.  That was the spring my landlady, the wife of the long-deceased gardener, was no longer on the property.  As I anxiously checked its progress, I intertwined its efforts to push itself back to life with my landlady’s disappearance.  Eventually, from the seemingly dead tree, one slender branch produced a few blossoms, and I cheered for it and for Pam, now residing in an assisted nursing facility, both of them still determined to survive another season.  By the summer, however, it was clear that the tree was too weak to survive another year.  Last spring, no buds arose in answer to spring’s siren song; Pam would be gone as summer turned into fall.

Just last week, as the earth warmed and buds began bursting, I understood how that old dogwood and these old cottonwoods felt.  The strength to start again, to meet the resistance life offers every day with my own will, seemed beyond my capacity.  Watching the red willows late to leaf, I thought of what an affront it would be to my sadness to see leaves on those branches.  The place I’d taken to my heart as a refuge because it reflected an austerity that mirrored my own internal landscape was beginning to reflect a vigor and a joy I did not feel.  More than once, I returned home from my walk disoriented and confused, deeply worried about how no answering movement was occurring within me.

Seeing those cottonwoods this morning, I thought of how their energy isn’t gone.  It was never really theirs; they were simply expressing life’s vitality as a cottonwood does.  Now what was once their responsibility will be taken up somewhere else.  They played a part in the fabric of life, just as the dogwood, the gardener and his wife Pam played theirs.  And until the day I grow too exhausted to summon the strength to join the general chorus, I once again find myself able to step into my role of reflecting what has nurtured my spirit, hoping that my efforts are like the cottonwood’s new leaves, able to honor the energy I’m privileged to share at this moment in time with all the other amazing expressions of life on our Mother Earth.

The sun shone as it had to

March 16, 2016

Musée des Beaux Arts

About suffering they were never wrong,
The Old Masters: how well they understood
Its human position; how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;
How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
For the miraculous birth, there always must be
Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
On a pond at the edge of the wood:
They never forgot
That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer’s horse
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.
In Brueghel’s Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water; and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.

Just before 4 pm on a Tuesday, 1/2 a mile away from where I sat on a bench warmed by the late winter sun, the buds of spring quivered on the edge of bloom and a woman died in a head-on crash.  The sonic boom, the metallic grating that spoke of some large object moving in a manner it had not been designed to do, signaled something gone horribly wrong.  No more than five minutes later, the screaming sirens converged.

I feel as a witness might, connected by aural proximity and a realization, always lurking but at such moments close to the surface, that death can arrive anytime, even on a bright blue afternoon on a clear stretch of road with shopping bags in the trunk, a sense of errands accomplished, and an anticipation of someone waiting at home with whom to share the day’s stories.

“We are survivors,” I tell my cat George as we’ve weathered the lonely winter missing our friend Bandit, killed only 500 yards down the same, dangerous road.  In this act, there lies no edification.  At times, even the burgeoning beauty of the natural world seems an affront to our sorrow.  But maybe our responsibility to the dead is to drink as deeply as we can of all that we too will leave behind at some impossibly beautiful hour.


the saucer magnolia blooming outside my front door’