Monday, July 16, 2018

No Job For A Sissy

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We are in real need of rain in my neck of the woods, a good, old-fashioned, day-long rain. The farmers need it, the gardens need it, and the rivers need it. While we've been blessed for the last few weeks with the most gorgeous summer weather you could want, every good thing must come to an end for the good of others, in this case, our veggies, our flowers, and our waterways. It must be a real chore for Mother Nature to have to make those decisions. No matter what she chooses, someone is going to be pissed off at her. I don't think I'd want her job.

It's the same thing with winter. Nothing invigorates the body like a crisp, cold, winter day with the sun reflecting diamonds off the snow as we strike out for a hike, or walk a woodland path ... except those folks who hate having to shovel out their cars yet again, and the ice on the sidewalks, and the school delays, and, and, .....etc. Nope, I'm sure I wouldn't want her job, especially in the winter .... and yet ...

... and yet, I would like her job in the Autumn when she gets to go wild with her paint brush, splashing the trees with all the shades of crimson and gold that God created, against a pearly blue sky. I would like to have a hand in plumping up those pumpkins and squash just a little bit more before the harvest begins, and waving a wand to create the smell of apples turning ripe on the trees, ready to be turned into cider and pies! Oh, yes! 

Gee, when I think about it, having her job in the Spring would be the most awesome thing in the world as well! What a joy to poke the buds to come out of the trees, and the tips of the tulips and daffodils to peek out of the ground, when every shade of green comes out to play and She writes new songs for the birds to sing the season into being. 

Whew! No doubt about it, being Mother Nature is no job for a sissy. I'm wondering when she gets a chance to sit down and take a break ... could she even ever take a vacation? Not to mention that no matter what she does, someone somewhere is bound to complain. When you think about it, her job is pretty much like life itself, isn't it? We can't please all the people all of the time, so we might as well live our lives to please ourselves and remember to sit back once in a while and offer ourselves an occasional "Job Well Done!"  Even on a rainy day ... especially on a rainy day. On behalf of the well nourished veggies I'll be enjoying in the weeks to come, Mother Nature, may I congratulate you on a Job Well Done! 

And so it is. 

Monday, July 9, 2018

The Sweet Tastes of Life

Peach, Fruit, Hands

Nothing says summer to me more than my first bite of my first peach of the season. On Saturday my daughter, granddaughter, and I went to the local farmers market where I bought my first local peaches of the season, along with some beautiful squash, cucumbers and mushrooms. There is something about a trip to the market that feeds my soul and speaks to my heart. It must be the memories of those years working my own gardens, knowing that all that backbreaking effort would be worth it when I picked that first tomato, harvested the lettuce and tied up my beautiful herbs to dry. Like the juice from that peach as it ran down my chin when I took that first bite, the fruits of the labor are well worth all the blood, sweat and tears.

Sometimes the biggest rewards come from the things that most people don't see as huge endeavors. Gardening isn't up there with creating a new source of energy, or writing a best-seller, or winning an election, but there is something about partnering with Creator and Mother Nature to be a part of the creation process. Anyone can go to the grocery store and buy a peach or a tomato. It takes someone who loves the feel of dirt in their hands, the sweet sound of birds overhead and bees buzzing nearby, and the warmth of the sun on your face to be willing to get down and dirty just to experience the sweet taste of a self-grown life. That, my friends, is how life is supposed to taste.

I feel no shame in admitting that I have an acute case of garden-envy this year, but I can get a little bit of that sweet feeling back when I visit the farmers market and talk to the people that put in the work that produced these works of art. I can smell, and touch, and taste, and know that the real riches in life are the ones we grow ourselves.

And so it is. 

Monday, July 2, 2018

A Pot of Herbal Wisdom

Fresh basil plant whose leaves are used extensively in cookery as a garnish and as a herb seasoning ingredient isolated on white

For those of you who have followed along with me on this garden path called life for the last 5 years, you know two things about me: 1. My favorite saying is: "Bloom where you're planted." 2. Every time I learn something new about plants and gardening, I always learn something about life as well.

My gardening odyssey has taken me everywhere from a large yard with flowers, veggies and a kitchen herb garden, to container gardening on a screened-in apartment porch, to a little tabletop garden in my current studio apartment. Wherever I live, I have to have something green that reminds me to bloom where I'm planted. No plant that I've ever worked with has taught me that lesson as well as my beloved and favorite cooking herb: basil. Specifically, that lovely, sweet basil so beloved by every Italian cook from here to Italy and back.

I've had successes and failures during my gardening education of the last 25 years as has every person who undertakes the daunting task of impersonating God and Mother Nature's handiwork. During that time, I have only once failed to produce a healthy, abundant basil plant and that was due to questionable soil and groundwater in a yard adjacent to a former industrial site that authorities swore they had "cleaned up." Other than that, I've been able to produce those sweet-smelling basil leaves even in a small pot, on a small table, in front of a window that doesn't get direct light until well into the afternoon. I've even grown it under a regular living room lamp! What does all this tell me? That this species of plant has a will to live, to grow, and to adapt to its environment so that it can be the best basil plant it possibly can. Can we all say the same about our own lives?

Right now, today, take a look around you at your own environment, both the physical one and the one inside where you really live. If there are things you can change so that your life can grow and blossom, like releasing what no longer serves you or brings joy and value to your life, then by all means weed those things out and replenish your inner soil with things that do. If there are things you can't change right now, perhaps due to financial or other issues, how can you adapt your life so that it blooms regardless of where you are? If a plant can figure it out, so can you.

As for me, right now, all this writing about basil is making me hungry for some fresh spaghetti sauce with organic tomatoes and a handful of greens from my very own tiny garden, cooked in my own tiny kitchen. It's all about perspective, folks. May you all bloom beautiful lives for yourself. 

And so it is. 

Monday, June 25, 2018

The Grace of Another Monday

So, here I am on this glorious Monday morning, sitting with my coffee and watching the clouds sail overhead, kissing the tops of the trees on the hills beyond. I'm thinking about what I want to do today as opposed to what I have to do today. In reality, I don't have to do anything. Every moment is a choice between happiness and something else. For some folks, on a Monday morning, happiness is more of a dream than a choice.

I can remember all those years I dreaded getting up on a Monday morning and dragging myself out to a commute I despised only to get to a job I truly hated. Every other face I saw on the street, on trains and buses, and in cars, had that same, sorrowful look: "Good God, it's Monday again!" Sure, I had to work to put food on the table and a roof over our heads, but every time Monday morning rolled around again I began to question my sanity. 

Whenever I have been stumped by a situation, or felt lost on my path, I have always found my answers by watching the natural world. After all, we humans are a late addition to the game (the natural world having a good thousand years or so more wisdom and experience than we have), and if we fell off the earth tomorrow the rest of nature could go on very comfortably and, I expect, a lot happier, without us. It behooves us to spend some time studying with the masters.

Humans are the only ones who have the need to measure time. For the rest of nature it is enough that the sun comes up and the sun goes down. Each and every morning the birds sing the day awake outside my window, rain or shine. They go about the business of feeding themselves and their families. Not one of them says to another: "Oh, God, it's Monday again!" They do what needs to be done without complaint because they don't perceive anything missing from their lives. At some point in the day they may even take a moment to play chase in the sky with other birds, or simply soar for the love of it. Squirrels react the same way to a new day. They are up with the sun, in search of a meal (and maybe a little something to put back for later), yet still find time to play tag up and down the trees or across rooftops. I once had a squirrel neighbor that liked to stretch out on his tummy on the roof across the way and just take a nap in the sun. To my knowledge, that fact that it was Monday, or Tuesday, or even Thursday, never came into the picture. They had awakened to the grace of another day and that was all they needed to know.

Even for those of you who must still get up on a Monday morning and take yourself to work, keep in mind that the fact that you have been granted another day on this earth is an act of grace, be it Monday or Sunday. Every day is a gift. How you decide to see it is your response to that gift. Mother Nature didn't assign names and attitudes to each day of the week, we did. Maybe it's time to change the name and choose a different attitude, like, maybe, gratitude. Gratitude changes the start of the day from, "Oh God, it's Monday," to, "Thank you, God, for another Monday." 

If I'm going to be honest, I have to confess that I did wake up a little grumpy this morning, but, thankfully, I know how to get out of that now. I sit myself down, take a sip of my coffee, watch my furry and feathered neighbors greet the day, and say, "Thank you, God, for this day." Works every time.

And so it is. 

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.