Being in Nature during Time of Pandemic

November 26

I have an Earth ritual. Periodically, I clean my hairbrush, pulling white hair from its tufted nest with my old blue comb. I’m always amazed at how much hair can be woven into the bristles–yet I still have hair on my head. I remember the days when my hair was a dark woody color but it’s been a long time since then. I accrue what amounts to a big handful of my self-made hair—close my fist around it, molding it into a loose ball.  I offer it to the birds and squirrels at a special agreed upon place. I don’t remember how we settled on the hollow of a live oak tree. It’s easy for me to reach. I bring my little ball of treasure and lay it there in the cleft of the trunk where it stays sometimes for days. Then one day I notice it is gone. The squirrels have already harvested a good bit of the stuffing in our lawn chair pillows but I like to think they prefer the natural over synthetic. How I would love to climb into one of their nests and rest my body on my own white hair, woven with leaves, twigs and other harvested prizes. Today, Thanksgiving, the harvest of blessings flows freely—from my head to my furry and feathered friends who doubtless could write a book about their observations of us. This my small act of reciprocity for all the joy they continuously give to me.

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Being in Nature during Time of Pandemic

November 25, 2020

Winter Seeds and Berries

Last week I got quiet and didn’t speak. Making way for a change of season, personally as well as in the natural world.  Some form of winter will come, even in these increasingly temperate zones around Austin. The woods are mostly brown—branches nearly empty, except for seeds and berries. Small splashes of pink, orange, red, and even blue, enliven the otherwise monochrome landscape. Mother nature has made provision for the winter months, preparing to host the wild creatures who depend on her for survival—birds, deer, squirrels, foxes, possums, coyotes, and others. The late-blooming flowers graciously fed the pollinators—honey bees, moths and butterflies throughout the fall, including the monarchs who migrate through.  Now the seeds and berries offer themselves.

We lost two large red oaks this summer. This means acorns are few in our yard—the squirrels must gather from a wider field. We have been poor stewards of our third of an acre so we have nothing much to offer winter visitors. Here’s an accounting of the provision our land has to offer: the possumhaw in the front yard has plenty of bright red berries. The nandina berries, also called heavenly bamboo, are slowly turning from white, to orange, to red. And we have a few hackberries. The one remaining mature red oak has no acorns and is showing signs of disease. Nothing can be done, the arborist told us. Let the tree live as long as it can. The one chile pequin on the side yard has quietly died, unnoticed by us. A lovely plant with bright red chiles.

Across the road, in the greenbelt, the juniper trees are full of blue-colored berries. They are harder to see because the juniper is a perennial but I often see them on the ground.  I’m also seeing beautyberries which grow in tight clusters along the stem. These mulberry purple berries are stunning but they will be soon gone. There are other berries I don’t know by name but the birds and other wildlife know. There’s a deep pink berry that grows on woody bushes. Its tight clusters of soft berries load the branches.

There’s so much yet to learn about the plant world. I’m just beginning. We are determined to be better stewards of this small patch of land, offering more provision for wildlife in the coming years. I’m humbled by how much the natural world now depends on humans for its existence. We have taken so much land, treating it as a natural resource or commodity instead of the gift it is. We have taken so little responsibility for the land we have ‘developed’. We have forgotten that everything depends on everything else. Our ignorance is causing deep pain to the natural world. Planting native species on all available land is a vital step in sustaining life on Earth. Our native possumhaws host 97 native moths and caterpillars—creatures whose lives are part of the life cycle that humans depend on for survival. Mother nature in all her wisdom makes provision for everyone, including for what Robin Wall Kimmerer calls the more than human world. A berry is fruit, seed, and provision for the future, a cause for hope. Our more than human relations depend on it for their survival. And we do too.

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Being in Nature during Time of Pandemic

November 11

Deep in the night Owl calls—a primordial sound that pierces the ear of the soul. She calls directly, clearly, unambiguously, and my soul answers—a response that pierces the ear of the cosmos—the very heart of Mystery. There is a voice that is forever calling us—and a listening that can hear this voice speaking through everything—even a feather or flower. In Hebrew it is called listening heart—Lebh Shomea—hearing with the ear of the heart. Closely linked is the Arabic word for hearing—as-Sami—the capacity to hear all sound, audible and not audible, as the divine voice which is constantly speaking to us from within our own heart. Another Arabic word, al-Basir, is seeing everything with the eye of the heart. The Chinese pictogram for listening includes both ear and heart. When the heart listens, everything speaks. Sometimes, if we are very still, a little bird will come and land in the heart and sing its song—the fulfillment of all our listening. The great Sufi poet, Jalal ad-Din Rumi speaks of this kind of listening:

I should sell my tongue and buy a thousand ears when that One steps near and begins to speak.

Listen! the Presence of the One is near. The one who claims us and draws us into its completeness, revealing the heart’s unerring truth.

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Being in Nature during Time of Pandemic

November 6

Days like today are made in heaven but can only be lived on Earth. I’m standing in front of a neighbor’s yard—a declared wildlife habitat.  I stop to listen to some eerie strange bird calls, probably an owl—a big distressing sound, and a weak little voice that sounds like it’s saying ‘hello, hello.’  While I listen for the owl, I notice several monarch butterflies are nuzzling little purple flowers. It is early November and our warm summer days persist. There’s a hardy prickly pear cactus next to the purple flowers. How do I describe it? The long spines stick out like unruly hairs–orange at the base, turning pale yellowish until at the point they turn orange again. The points are needle sharp. There’s a purple smudge on the leaf pad at the base of the spine. The leaf itself is a pale sage green. Each leaf pad looks like a child’s drawing of a face with straggly hairs poking out in all directions. Seeing it makes me smile. A wind chime adds its note to the moment.

As I enter the greenbelt, a cloud of white wing doves scatters in all directions. Their characteristic whirring wing sounds give them away. The white wings used to migrate in the fall but I have noticed in recent years some remain local. They like to gather in small flocks, keeping to themselves—only apparent when someone comes near and flushes them from the trees. It’s always a deep and unexpected pleasure to cross paths with them—an added blessing to an already perfect day. They have been absent from our yard since late summer, until now—I hear their fluttering wings of joy. Our winged friends are all around us if we care to open our eyes and pay attention. O how we affirm and complete each other.

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Being in Nature during Time of Pandemic

November 4

The rusty red tricycle sits abandoned in the back yard—grandchildren live too far away to take it for a spin. Today a mockingbird comes and perches in a live oak tree, peers down at me sitting in the shade. She flies over to the tricycle and lands on the foot pad above the back wheels, hops up on the seat, then onto the rusted silver handlebars—pausing briefly before flying off into the blue-sky day. She is very aware of my presence, flicking her tail as she glances my way. Three wheels, three perches, three notes in an unfinished hymn, three wishes for re-weaving our world into the fabric of belonging. I’m sitting under a cedar elm tree. Occasionally the wind drops a load of leaves and seeds into my lap. A seed is a future. A wind-swept pile of seeds is a continent. A continent of seeds contains infinite possibilities of futures. A rusty red tricycle is a landing place for a mockingbird. Mockingbird and I are both seed planters. A moment of recognition exists between us and this makes all the difference.

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Being in Nature during Time of Pandemic

October 31

Nature’s bounty—fall harvest. This is the most beautiful acorn squash I’ve ever seen. It is perfectly shaped with its ridges rising to a woody top where the stem broke away from the mother plant. The mother who gave her best nourishment to the flower and seed that produced this beautiful squash—a love child. Deep green outside and golden orange inside. I slice it down the middle and scoop out the seeds, leaving an empty chamber. I glaze the inside with coconut oil, add quinoa, raisins, small chunks of roasted sweet potato and cinnamon and bake it to perfection. The outside turned a dark glossy eggplant purple color, in perfect contrast to the deep orange meat. It was almost too beautiful to eat, but eat it, we did.  Delicious! It had the sweetest taste, the perfect texture. As we ate, we felt we were the luckiest people in the world. Our bellies filled with gratitude and we wished that all beings would have an abundance of food and nourishment. The delight was mixed with sadness, knowing there is still so much hunger in the world—more every day. I’m reminded of Gandhi’s words—There’s enough for everyone’s need but not everyone’s greed. We are still learning how to be fully human. I pray we figure it out soon.

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Being in Nature during Time of Pandemic

October 30

Life continues to manifest in whatever form it can. There is an indivisible continuity—an invisible substrate that is pure intelligence guiding the whole. Yesterday the wind blew gales and gales, sweeping dead branches from the trees. Today the last of the sunflowers—and it’s amazing they lasted till now—stir sweetly with the wild grasses in a light breeze. Nature is indifferent to conditions, continuously expressing life in whatever way conditions allow. These sunflowers will soon die. Flower and leaf will wither away, but the place where they have bloomed will not forget them. There is a belonging that transcends the individual moments of our lives. That belonging owns us all, and reclaims us when we wither and fall. Sensing this belonging in my blood and bones, I deeply relax. I allow—at least for this moment—the withering of time to proceed, to lead me—a simple seed—on to more fertile ground. I surrender to the Great Mystery, to the impossible continuity of life.

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Being in Nature during Time of Pandemic

October 28

Before I see them, I feel a shiver up my spine. Here on the side of the road they live. Some call them weeds, but I will not call them weeds. They are wild grasses and they are my kin. They are brilliantly alive—golden stalks of life shimmering. Fiercely blown by the north winds, moving together as one body—a single broom sweeping the air.

My body, not separate from theirs, moves with them. Like me, these grasses are rooted in Earth; like me, they are reaching toward the heavens. Not some distant place we strive for—heaven is here where we are, rooted in belonging. I see the grasses clearly. They have called to me—have urgently commanded my attention so I can feel how I belong to them and they belong to me. How everything belongs to Earth. How Earth belongs to heaven.

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Being in Nature during Time of Pandemic

October 21

Inside, a vase of summer wildflowers—bright yellow—sits on the glass table facing the window. The sun has infused their already bright faces with its medicinal light. Outside, a storm of yellow leaves goes whirling past the window, their dry bodies, make a rustling sound as their shadows tumble across the kitchen table—ghostly presences—gone in a flash.  Inside, and simultaneously, the drying petals of the yellow flowers fall soundlessly onto the glass. Among the fallen petals, golden specks of pollen shine like tiny stars in the firmament. There can never be too much light.

It is late October and this is the last of the summer wildflowers. My heart sinks with their passing. Soon, cooler days will come, and maybe even winter. Who knows? Nothing is certain in these times. Nothing but the light. The winter light is beautiful. Whether cloud, or sun, or darkness of night, the firmament will continue to pour its light on Earth. This light is medicine in its most natural form. It is pure grace.  If we humans learn to harvest it, everything is possible. There can never be too much light.

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Being in Nature during Time of Pandemic


October 17
 
Moon—Last Quarter
 
Like a toothless gleaming smile
through the wilderness of night—
You shine through the trees
with your companion—the morning star
trailing behind. I hear a slight
murmur of laughter
as you share a cosmic joke.
Brightness upon brightness
You move the Earth.
 
I love words.
Even more those that come
directly from your lips, Lord
but what about the silence?
Silence born of stillness?
Like a toothless gleaming smile
through the wilderness of night,
Your words cascade through the amphitheater of Your silky silence,
ripple across night’s dressing gown,
tumble onto moon-streaked paper.
Your silvery silence—born of stillness
Ceaselessly persists.
 
 
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