Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Navigating the Season

"And there is quite a different sort of conversation around a fire than there is in the shadow of a beech tree.... Four dry logs have in them all the circumstance necessary to a conversation of four or five hours, with chestnuts on the plate and a jug of wine between the legs. Yes, let us love winter, for it is the spring of genius." ~Pietro Aretino, translated from Italian

The days are definitely shorter now, with darkness creeping in around 4 P.M. these days where we live. We've had unusually bright, clear weather with much less rainfall - November was about nine inches below normal, I'm told. Dryness is relative, however, and so we have had some rain.

A cold air mass has pushed in, bringing temperatures in the 20s and 30s and leaving those perpetual puddles covered in ice. Hearing of the heavy snow storms expected across the country, I'm reminded of the years we spent in places where winter snows were the norm. I enjoyed those places and climes, but today I am content to be where I am.

Most of our flower and vegetable plots are looking rather ragged now, but the many conifers and other evergreen species keep the green going. Lingonberries, winterberries, and holly provide bright spots of red among the remaining leaves and stark, bare, branches. Already, many native shrubs and trees are putting forth small buds that will gradually grow, swell, and burst open when conditions are favorable. No matter how dark, cold, and wet winter is, there is always new life just waiting below the surface for its time to reappear. That is one of the things that I love about winter - the perpetual process of regeneration and promise of spring.

All seasons serve a purpose and I believe that winter is the time for rest and renewal. It is a time for slowing down, changing gears, and looking inward. In the past, when more of us were closer to the growing, harvesting, and marketing of food and goods and much more connected to the earth, this was easier to do. During the growing season we were kept busy and active; during the non-growing season we had time to regroup, reflect, and recreate. A part of us still wants this - colder, darker weather makes us seek warmth, light, and food that comforts us and draws us together.

Innately, I believe that most of us still seek this, but the plethora of technology nowadays seems to consume many of us and draw us into its spell. It seems to offer much of the light, warmth, and "food" that we crave and can connect us to others in ways we never imagined before. But like all things, moderation is important and the latest gadgets can, and often do, also cut us off from others in important ways. In our constant quest to be more "connected", do we not often invest much time and energy mentally removed from those who should matter? It is something that I think is worth thinking about because - I promise you - no machine is going to miss you when you're eventually gone...

The busy, hectic holiday season is once more upon us and seems to start earlier and earlier each year. Bottom line: BUY! Yes, there is some mention of gratitude and giving, but more and more those seem to take second place behind the buying. In our consumer society, we all seem to be on an ever-speeding treadmill to always get that one more thing that will make us, or those close to us, happy. But really, no amount of spending and buying will do that because it has to come from within. Yes, many of us know this and give lip service to the fact, but it's just too easy to get swept away with all the hype. Those who market to the rest of us are very good at it.

Once again, we struggle to make sense of it all. That is why I still believe that in this dark, cold season it does us good to look inside ourselves to see what we can discover. Why are we here and just what should we be doing in this place and time? What do we truly want to do and how can we do that given our circumstances? Heady stuff for sure. And, is it even worth thinking about or should we maybe just check that smart phone one more time?

"There is a privacy about it which no other season gives you.... In spring, summer and fall people sort of have an open season on each other; only in the winter, in the country, can you have longer, quiet stretches when you can savor belonging to yourself."
~Ruth Stout

Below are some ideas I previously offered for how we have zeroed in on what's important for us during the holidays - click on the titles:


Tuesday, November 26, 2013

November Musing - Part 3

There comes a time when autumn asks,
"What have you been doing all summer?"

Going out on a limb, and then meeting ourselves coming and going...
In August, my dear husband once again called my attention to something he knew I'd want to see. I quickly spied it clinging tightly to the rough wood of a standing planter box. Hidden among the clutter of old pieces of wood and blue tarp, it might easily have been overlooked if not for its brilliant green color.  Carefully observing, studying, and photographing it, I then made an attempt to grab it for a closer look. This little green tree frog depended on heightened awareness for its very survival, so when its supposed camouflage failed, it quickly switched to Plan B: speed and cover. It took me a few minutes of searching and grabbing, but finally I held it in my hand.

We were trying to settle in to what passes as a normal summer for us -maintaining our sizable yard and enjoying a number of local camping trips. But the reality is that this was not a normal summer for us. May had seen us offering some measure of long distance support for the move and settling-in of our brother-in-law near to his youngest daughter. June saw us helping to pack and move my older sister to our area from out-of-state. 

 And in between, we'd lived with many weeks of a major overhauling of a large slab of concrete near the back of our house. This served as a floor for both a double carport and a patio area, but it was very old, cracked, chipped, and beyond repair. After seeking expert advice, there was nothing to do but have that whole, huge slab removed and replaced with something better.
This brought major disruption, noise, and mess. So much for our normally quiet home...
Was it worth it? Absolutely!
To better photograph it, I set the little tree frog on a small plant near the ground, thinking I could sit down and focus right in on it.
Apparently, the frog had other ideas as it made a flying leap to a nearby red huckleberry bush and began climbing.
Several times I caught it and again placed it back on the short plant, but each time it leaped to the bush and continued its upward trek.
Finally, I just tried to photograph it wherever it was perched.
"Real action is in silent moments."
Ralph Waldo Emerson

I had my usual volunteer activities, some of which require more time and energy in the summer.  
As a volunteer beach naturalist, many hours are spent on our local beaches interacting with both children and adults who visit and would like to learn more about sea life.
As a member of the steering committee for a local nature park being developed in our area, I help with some stewardship work as well as many of the educational events we have there. The hours do add up...
"A bee is never as busy as it seems;
it's just that it can't buzz any slower."
Kin Hubbard

One thing we did not fully expect was the time involved with our church's new building project. My husband became the self-appointed "official" photographer and made at least one trip a day to the site to capture every stage of the building process.

This took nearly a year and was full of all sorts of ups and downs.

When the building was complete, we had a huge amount of landscaping to do and guess who was on that committee?

Most of what we did was required by the county, so it was not just for looks or our own satisfaction, although the results turned out well.


We're glad it's all done!
We did manage to go camping, as planned. Although we live in a rural area, we are not far from two major cities and the surrounding areas teem with population. Because of this and (we surmise)  the current economic conditions, to get a desired camp site with the needed or wanted hookups one really needs to make a reservation months in advance. We had reserved all of our camping sites back in January and, fortunately, we did not need to cancel any.

For us - even with planning and packing - getting away to the relative peace and quiet of a campground is well worth the effort. It really is getting back to the basics of simple living - relaxing, enjoying the great outdoors, cooking, eating, and sleeping.

 We spend little time inside, choosing to sit outside in camp chairs or taking a drive or hike to see the surrounding countryside.
We revel in the variety of life on this planet and never cease to be amazed at how well each is adapted to its particular niche.
 We breath it all in and find ourselves refreshed and revitalized again and again.
"The point is that when I see a sunset or a waterfall or something, for a split second it's so great, because for a little bit I'm out of my brain, and it's got nothing to do with me. I'm not trying to figure it out, you know what I mean? And I wonder if I can somehow find a way to maintain that mind stillness." - Chris Evans.

 The tree frog continued to climb and leap - from one slender branch to the next. It seemed very odd to me that it would choose this spindly bush over the sturdy plant below until it dawned on me - this was a TREE frog. It simply chose the path it was best equipped to deal with.
When I find myself overwhelmed with the myriad facets of life - the worries, frustrations, burdens, pain, grief, busyness, and constant changes, I always seek some measure of solitude.
While digging weeds, I can work out the solution to a problem.
While walking the beach, I can contemplate ultimate change.
While standing among trees, I can recognize my true size and importance.
When my mind is a-swirl and my body racing, instinctively I know what I need - solitude and silence.
Through these, the ultimate power of life and love and all that is speaks volumes and brings me back to who I am.

"When you lose touch with inner stillness,
you lose touch with yourself.
When you lose touch with yourself,
you lose yourself in the world.
Your innermost sense of self, of who you are,
is inseparable from stillness.
This is the I Am that is deeper than name and form."
~Eckhart Tolle
Be still, and know that I am God."
Psalm 46:10