Monday, June 18, 2018

The Path Less Traveled

Path, Forest, Nature, Season, Green, Woods, Landscape

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
Robert Frost 
Of all the walking and hiking experiences I've had in my life, nothing compares for me like a walk through the woods. Sure, walking along the shore with the surf at your feet and the entire ocean before you can be awe-inspiring, but give me a soft, gentle meandering through the woods, with the canopy of trees as my cathedral, and the call of birdsong as my angelic choir. I can remember once walking along a wooded path the ran around the circumference of a camp ground where my sister and I were roughing it (except for the air mattress) for the weekend. I had no idea where we were going or where the path would lead, but I was full of wonder and adventure, imagining myself as my ancestors must have felt exploring new lands. 

I thought of the above, much-quoted lines from Robert Frost when I came across a new mantra for my morning meditations. I was looking for something that would help me focus on the new day ahead of me with hope and promise. I found such a mantra on YouTube in a meditation from BoHo Mediations:

"I surrender to the path of my own journey.
I accept and embrace the process."

When I heard it for the first time, I was transported back to that day with my sister, walking through the woods and marveling at the beauty around me, and the challenge to pick a path to walk without always knowing where it was going to lead. That day was not only a lesson in courage, but also a lesson in faith. Somehow I knew that the spirit of the woods, and those that walked this path before us, were watching over us. 

Sometimes we are presented with the opportunity to choose a whole new path, and that can be pretty scary. We really do know instinctively which path to choose, it's just a matter of having the faith and the courage to take the first step. As the ancient sage Lao Tzu reminds us in "The Tao Te Ching":

"A journey of a thousand miles begins with one first step."

What have you got to loose? Take that first step. You may just be stepping into the adventure of your life!

And so it is. 

Monday, June 11, 2018

Born Knowing

Image result for free images of birds building nests

My favorite pastime, besides reading and writing, is nature-watching. I can sit for hours outside, under a tree, watching the natural world hustle and bustle along, doing it's own thing. I have been fortunate over the years to have witnessed many of Mother Nature's miracles, not the least of which were seeing a butterfly emerge from a cocoon, watching birds building nests, and seeing tiny baby amphibians, both fish and frogs, come into the world. I have watched bees doing their all-important jobs, parents watching over offspring, and trees going through the cycles of the seasons with the artistry of a John Singer Sargent (as in this beautiful sample of his work below):

Image result for A boating party

What has struck me over and over again as I've witnessed these beautiful moments is this: How do the birds know how to build a nest? How do the baby fish know know to swim as soon as they are  born? How does the caterpillar know how to make a cocoon? How do the trees know when it's time to raid God's color palette before dropping their leaves to the ground for winter? The answer, I have come to learn, is that they are born knowing.  Call it instinct, call it heredity, call it DNA passed from generation to generation, it all boils down to the same thing: they are born knowing.

So what about we humans? Since we are a part of this glorious and brilliantly designed world, what are we born knowing? In fact, after old Adam and Even left the Garden of Eden to go out and fend for themselves, how did they, and the generations that followed, know how to live? My Native American friends taught me that humans were smart back then and watched the animals, then did what they did. They watched how birds made nests that could withstand storms and built their long houses and huts. They watched what the animals ate, saw that they thrived, and did the same. They watched birds and squirrels dropping seeds and nuts only to have them take root and grow, and learned to garden ... and they watched the love and devotion of animal parents towards their offspring, and they did the same as well. 

Personally, while I believe most of that to be true, there are two things I think we humans were born knowing. First, I think the whole "fight or flight" method of survival was planted in us like a seed - I think one look at a T-Rex or a saber-tooth tiger was enough to have that one kick in! Second, and even more important, I think we were born knowing how to love and be loved. I think we have an instinctual knowledge of what it feels like to be held, to be nurtured, and to be loved. I also think that we still have a long way to go until we can mirror our animal relatives who can love without self-doubt and notions of unworthiness. Just watch how a pair of bald eagles, both Mom and Dad, take turns sitting on the nest, feeding their young, and watching over them. Or, see how an entire pack of wolves take responsibility for the safety and upbringing of the little ones (a perfect example of "it takes a village to raise a child). 

For now, I have a front-row seat at a performance of starlings as they sweep across the sky in one of their aerial ballets known as murmurations, each bird turning, diving and rising at exactly the same time as if it were rehearsed by Martha Graham or George Balanchine!  How do they know how to do that? God only knows!

And so it is. 

Monday, June 4, 2018

A Boy, An Owl, And A World Of Magic

Image may contain: bird

On Saturday I took my 8 year old grandson, Stanley, to the Robeson Museum and Science Center in Binghamton, NY, just a short ride from our home in Endicott. They were featuring an exhibit called "Nature Trek." It showed animals in their natural habitats and why those habitats, and the animals themselves, were in danger of extinction. 

Stanley is all about animals. He loves them all, from the tiniest insect to the biggest mammal. He especially loves birds, and he was not disappointed when he saw the exhibit. If anything, he was so excited that he didn't know where to look first. The museum had outdone itself with its life-like replicas of natural environments, from forests and wetlands, to prairie fields and frozen tundra. They even had a beaver dam. Each exhibit explained what that particular habitat provided for the animals that made it their home and why it was being depleted, either due to cutting down trees to build developments, or climate change, or pollution. They also provided computers to bring up videos on the walls of endangered birds and their sounds. Stanley was in heaven. When I asked him to tell me which animal he liked the most, he answered with no hesitation: "Hedwig." 

Image result for harry potter and hedwig

Hedwig is the pet owl owned by the infamous boy wizard, Harry Potter, hero of 7 books and 8 movies of the same name. The wizarding world that Harry lives in is magical to say the least, and magic has its basis in the natural world of animals, plants, and all of the elements (air, wind, earth, fire, water). Is it any wonder, that Stanley, a Harry Potter fan, would also be drawn to the beauty and magic of the natural world.

I often think people forget that the natural world is magical. Watch a Louie Schwartzberg slow motion nature photographic video if you don't believe me. It will take your breath away. Instead of kids spending their time glued to a screen, turn them loose with a pair of binoculars in a park or on a hiking trail and let them experience the magic first hand. Watching baby birds taking their first, tentative steps outside the nest, seeing how the clouds move across the sky, or watching a murmuration of a flock of starlings like a beautiful aerial ballet ... that's magic! 

I have promised Stanley another trip back to the Robeson after school is out. They also have a planetarium and we have a date to watch the stars together and explore the Universe. Awesome!

And so it is. 

Monday, May 28, 2018

Doing What We Can

Memorial Day brings many things to my mind. I think of all the boys I went to high school with who graduated with me in 1968 only to be drafted soon thereafter and shipped off to Viet-Nam, many never to come back. I think of a young man I dated who did come back, but so badly damaged emotionally from the experience that he used to have flashbacks and hide behind the sofa, crying. I think of a generation of young men, some gone, and some treated like the enemy and invisible when they came home. Lots of time, however, I think about my Dad.

My Dad was born in 1906. When World War I came around, he was too young to enlist. Even at the tender age of 15, my father was not to be stopped from fulfilling what he believed was his duty. So he stole his older brother's ID and ran away to join up. His father, my grandfather, had been killed in a work related accident when my Dad was 11. Since there were no laws keeping children in school at that time, he and his older brothers all quit school to help support the family. So it should have been no surprise that my Dad was already carrying the heart of a grown man within him. It took my grandmother three months to locate him and bring him home.

By the time World War II started, my poor Dad was now too old to be drafted. Plus, as the youngest son, he would have been spared anyway. By this time, he had spent many years apprenticing with an auto mechanic and eventually started his own business. Since he could not serve his country on the front lines, he did what he could from where he was, with what he had, especially for those returning servicemen. Any and all of his friends or relatives, and even some strangers, who served and made it back never paid a dime to have their cars repaired. He was the one they called in the dead of night or in the middle of a snow storm to come and get them if they broke down. He extended this service to others who served their country in one way or another, especially police officers and firemen. Nobody paid for anything. It was what he could do for those that did what he couldn't. He never got rich that way, but that wasn't important to him. He was especially kind to the Viet Nam Vets who were shunned by so many. He kept a Coke machine in his gas station and those that served never paid for a cold drink. He gave them a place to hang out while their vehicles were being repaired, or just to have a place to go during the day for those that had neither a vehicle to drive or a home to go to.  

One of my favorite transformational teachers, Mike Dooley, creator of the wonderful and inspiring, Notes From The Universe taught me this: 

"Do what you can, with what you have, from where you are."

Today is Memorial Day, and we will have our parades, and cheer for our men and women who put their lives on the line for their country. We will remember those that did not come back, and we will put little flags on the graves of those that did but not in the way we would have wished. We will listen to them play Taps and then go home to our barbecues, but Memorial Day doesn't end there. Memorial Day is every day. For those of us who did not get to serve, even if we strongly disagree with our country's military and political mindset, we can at least do what we can to support throughout the year those that put politics aside to keep us free. Maybe a kind word, a smile, shaking their hand and saying "thank you," or volunteering at a Vet Hospital even if it's just to shoot the breeze or read to them. There are as many ways of saying "thank you" as there are people in the world. Everybody can find a way to do it. If my Dad were still here with us, he would show you.

And so it is. 

Sunday, May 20, 2018

It Takes A Village

Image result for free images of ants working

My parents bought an old house across from our tiny apartment the summer that I turned 6. I would no longer have to share a bed with my older sister, and my parents would no longer have to sleep on the Castro Convertible Sofa (the prelude to the sofa bed back in the 50's) in the living room. I would have my very own room! The fact that it was the size of a closet did not matter. It was all mine and I would spend countless hours over the coming years using my room as a place of magic, inspiration, invisible friends and, years later, walls covered in Beatles posters! However, even better than having my own room was the fact that instead of looking out the window and seeing only concrete, we had a yard, a real, dirt-filled, tree-filled yard! That it was in desperate need of upgrades did not phase me at all. It was a yard!

One of the things I spent much of that first summer doing was to lay on my stomach and watch the ants. My mother, who was a staunch anti-insect person, was sure that I was going to catch some awful disease or bring something unspeakable into the house from laying in the dirt. That the worst thing I received from my science experiment were a few insect bites did not deter her from trying to shame me into "acting like a young lady." Obviously, young ladies did not roll around in the dirt. I took a vow never to become one.

Watching ants at work is amazing. For such tiny beings, they carry many-times their weight, all working and pulling together to find and store food for the entire colony, and taking care of each other in the bargain. Many is the time that I saw a wounded ant being carried by his friends and family on their backs in order to return him to their underground home for whatever ants do to nurse each other. I didn't know it at the time, but I was getting my very first lesson in the concept of team work and community.

Years later as an adult I had what I call a "mystical" experience and came to know wolf as my spirit animal (this is a whole other story for another time). I began studying the lives of wolves, becoming involved in keeping them from becoming extinct in the wild, and getting my next lesson in community and cooperation. I saw how the entire wolf pack is responsible for caring for and raising the young regardless of who the parents are. They have an extended family of aunts and uncles who not only look out for them, and protect them, but teach them what they need to know to survive. Mom and Dad never have to worry about going off on a hunt. There is always someone willing to stay behind and babysit. These babies grow up knowing the love and protection of the entire pack.

I have come across so many other examples of how nature takes care of its own, from animals to trees, plants and everything that lives on the planet. Those that survive, and thrive, do so because of a natural, instinctive knowing that working in community, with teamwork and cooperation, benefits everyone. It's not survival of the fittest, it's survival of the committed. Maybe we should spend more time laying in the dirt, watching the ants. It's worth a few bug bites to understand the secrets to a happy and thriving life that Mother Nature has to teach us. 

And so it is. 

Monday, May 14, 2018

The Flowers That Bloom In The Spring

I have always thought the colors of the flowers that bloom in the spring to be some of the most beautiful and vibrant of all. Maybe it's because we are so hungry for color after the long, grey days of winter (especially this past seemingly never-ending one). Maybe it's because we crave some color to brighten up our own lives. Whatever the reason, and as glorious as they are, they last but a short time, dying back after a few weeks to make way for the Mother Nature's summer pallet of shape and color.

Taken into the context of time as we know it, our lives, like the spring flowers, are here for but an instant. We rejoice in our youth only to wake up one morning to discover our kids all grown and more years behind us than in front of us.

So what can we do with this fading of our own inner springtime? We can rejoice in it, for however long it is here , and then celebrate the next season with excitement and anticipation. The tulips and daffodils may be fading, but look what Mother Nature has in store for us: roses, lilacs, juicy tomatoes, and, oh, those beautiful sunflowers, always turning their faces to follow the sun!

Like the sunflowers we can turn our faces to the sun and let the next season of our lives bloom. Just remember that no matter how long or short our season may last, dancing in the rain is always allowed!

And so it is.

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Falling Off The Turnip Truck

The older I get, the more I hear my mother coming out of my mouth. The first time it happened years ago when my girls were small, I was horrified: "Oh no, I'm turning into my mother!" Now when it happens, I just chuckle. It seems that at 68 I finally understand what all those folksy old sayings meant.

Here is an example. Recently I was able to pull off a technical challenge without having to call my Geek Squad, a.k.a. my granddaughter and her hubby. When my grandson praised me for my accomplishment, my reply was: "Well I didn't just fall off the turnip truck, you know," I got blank stares from my grandson. I tried to explain: "It means that I wasn't born yesterday." More blank stares. One more try: "It means I'm not stupid, I can still learn new things!" Finally, a glimmer of understanding. "We'll why didn't you say so?" Do you ever feel like you're speaking a foreign language in your own country?

As for the real turnip truck, it was actually a vegetable truck that drove through our neighborhood when I was growing up. The man's name was Manny and he had a farm out on Long Island before it all became housing developments after the GI Bill was enacted back in the 50's. He would sell fresh produce  from his farm right off the truck, no pesticides or funky stuff, just fresh veggies for the housewives of Queens, NY. My mom would let me go out to his truck with her so I could see what "real fruit and vegetables look like." I always got a juicy apple or peach from Manny as a treat. Fast forward 60 years and how have we evolved? We go to farmer's markets to get fresh, organic produce.

Looks like my mom really did know what she was talking about. I'm glad I listened.

And so it is.