So Much Life, So Many Lenses

Extrapolate. It’s what’s possible when truth is present, which it is not in these days of COVID-19, not completely.

As always, there are exceptions such as New York Governor Cuomo’s daily press conferences. New York is a state and a city whose Adirondack mountains and Met opera I know only virtually, now the predominate means of viewing all life. So, I extrapolate to get a view of the state of my Florida, which I once traveled up and down and back-and-forth, as I did my own city of Tallahassee. No more.

No doubt my view of the news is skewed but I have a sense of comfort, an overall understanding, and that’s enough. What happens in New York City is not the scene in Tallahassee, we don’t have the numbers, but Miami creeps closer every day, and they must extrapolate, too, because they don’t have enough tests for their own numbers. Unlike the rest of the country, New York does have tests.

It is a virus unlike any other, one that literally takes the breath away as it gobbles up the way we once lived. Now we know the meaning of what can happen when a virus jumps from another species to ours. The only way to sustain life is to stay away from each other.

Even the word quarantine has a hard sound to it, as if social distancing were a punishment, which it is not. It’s a different life lens. It’s the view we have when life changes from what it was.

I really do know something about this as I’ve been social distancing for 10 years. It happened gradually, for one health reason or another, distancing myself from large gatherings, shopping the early morning weekday hours, giving up long distance travel. My immune system is compromised as is my spinal cord. It is best for me to keep my distance, less chance of falling or getting the flu.

Acceptance arrived but it took its time, as it is wont to do. Ask anyone you know who lives a differently abled life and they will tell you that binging anything–movies, TV shows, podcasts, gaming, reading, audiobooks–is not a way of life. Each is a welcome distraction from the discomfort of being disabled but not a one is life itself.

In Randall Jarrell’s poem, “The Sick Child,” a young boy confined to bed and beyond boredom cries out, “all that I’ve never thought of, think of me!” I first came across the poem when I was teaching college English in Wyoming, a lifetime away from the moment that all I never thought of, think of me would become my mantra. Then, I was in my mid 30s believing remission was forever, as if anything ever is. Yet, there was so little I didn’t know. Mostly, I had an answer for everything because magical thinking works like that.

Now I know nothing but opening myself to the reality of each day, whatever it maybe. I cannot possibly know what I need until the day dawns, as if it were that easy. My mind will not still the scenes of who I was or where I once walked. It insists on showing.

Sometimes, it’s the crushingly cold mountain streams of Wyoming where wind will steal the breath away. None of its bouldered paths will I walk again, gasping for breath above timberline, cursing at the caught tip of my flyrod in the ponderosa pine on my way to a lake that was once snow. No less in my mind are the woodlands of live oak and longleaf pine, sandy soft roads of shell and sandstone, sabal palm, and the shores of Saint George Island.

Florida and Wyoming, so physically distant and forever together virtually, sometimes so much so it hurts and then angers. With a ferocity of focus I cry out, “all I never thought of think of me!” It’s the words on the air that make the fury fade, as the energy of emotion reorganizes, evens itself out.

Something I never thought of does comes to me, not so much life changing but a broader perspective like  Pema Chodron’s we are always in relationship, even with the insect in the room. So, a change in perspective. Tunnel vision does tend to skew. None of life is perfect. There are cracks everywhere–they’re how we cope–these streaks of hope in a time of novel coronavirus.

It’s closing the window of what cannot be and opening the door of what is, meeting reality with equanimity, no longer blind by wishing and wanting. That is viewing life through a new lens. It is the past that takes us to the door of the present but it knows its place. Here, we live. There, we remember.

So much life, so many lenses.

One with the Wood

Morning mantra…I don’t remember the day it started, years ago certainly, but its why is another matter. I wanted a way to define being in the moment for if I could confine it, then I could experience it. Ha!

I lost the control and kept the mantra, which doesn’t hold back: mine is to meet each moment with compassion, lovingkindness, joy, and equanimity, which is not to say I do. I’m not setting goals just reminding myself to open the door of each day and begin there.

Just waking to some days is easier than others. To meet what happens after that and look to the heart and not only the face is never easy. Feelings may not be facts but they are powerful for at their core is pure energy.

Mindfulness–awareness like no other–helps me open that daily door, which is sometimes to a forest, rare and rich. Every day is a stroll, indoors or out, but a forest floor with sun shadows is stuff for my memory banks.

It is summertime in the Florida panhandle (although the calendar considers it spring), the humidity almost as high as the 90°+ temperatures, some of my best days for my body.

My walking stick is wood, a live branch now fallen, stripped of bark and varnished clear, its knots remembered. I have added black rubber tips to its top and bottom, one to ground and one to grip, for ease of grasp.

My left side is weaker, so much so my left hand cannot hold the stick with any certainty but my right hand, used to leading, finds the walking stick a useful prop. Sometimes, balance looks lopsided.

I waddle and wobble, a slow stagger sometimes, but an evenness of mind and body down a forest path on a late spring morning just after sunrise is–to me–all that and lots of birdsong.

This greenway is 50 acres of forest and meadow with 12 miles of dusty sand trail but to me it is boundless, yet forests have their limits these days and are now carefully tended not to exceed. What is done is done.

I walk until I tire, reaching a picnic table made of concrete, its bench table tops painted brown for natural reasons I suppose. Still, I am grateful for such tables, as well benches, for there are days I stop briefly at each one but today, it is the second picnic table where I will stay.

Not far along, I know, but in the forest, distance ceases to matter, like time. It’s forgotten. To neither, the forest bends. Rather, it gives its all.

Regular readers of this blog may recognize the above picture of a magnificent live oak split down the middle by lightning some six or seven years ago, not even nanoseconds in its life. See how its heart has sprouted so many new lives.

In the distance, in stark contrast, stands another oak, a sentinel stripped of its bark, possibly by lightning but by life, nonetheless. At the tip of one of its limbs, I notice movement, the shape of a turkey vulture when its head switches to profile, but mostly it is one with the wood.

In awe, I watch as all else disappears.

Not even the heart of the magnificent tree, with all its new lives distracts from being one with the wood. No sound nor single thought or emotion, only nothing consumes mind and body. I am neither on the ground or in the air, only nowhere.

In some moment I return to being a human alive with the energy that animates everything rather than being one with it. Such moments never repeat, not in the same way or same place, and in some moment I became comfortable with that, just meeting the moment I am in, grateful for a day as a human being.

Silence is not the absence of something but the presence of everything” (Gordon Hempton, Ecologist).

An Interlude…of Sorts

This post appears a bit late. It is an interlude of sorts–an interruption of my usual posting schedule—to revisit St. Mark's 0215some recent travel along the north coast of Florida, beginning the first weekend in February.

For me, the first weekend signals the promise of spring. If nothing else, this first weekend is the WHO festival–Wildlife Heritage and Outdoors–at one of my favorite places, St. Mark’s Lighthouse and Wildlife Refuge.

Each year, spring’s promise seems a bit soggier and maybe even a bit colder but  my memory is less sharp. I always remember the previous spring as warmer but then, I seem to A Winter's Day 0215require warmer temperatures.

This year’s WHO festival kicked off a week of exploring. A dear friend had come to visit. It was a true vacation, our visit of north Florida, its Gulf coast, its rivers and an occasional inhabitant.

We enjoyed winter temperatures—I complained; she did not–but the promise of spring never left either one of us.

It is one of the many treasures of long friendships that in seeing new lands, old lands are remembered, different as each is. In the discovering, memory relays moments long forgotten. In the creation of new memories, the old is perhaps even more golden.

We grew up knowing rivers of the Rocky Mountains, clear and chatty, sometimes white in their rapids. In north Florida we visited blackwater rivers mostly, their own southern brew of organic acids and tannins.

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On a particularly brisk day we “went down upon” the Suwannee River; she is deep enough that steamboats once paddled her strong currents. In these days, wooden gliders afford the visitor a comfortable seat for reflection.

The Ochlockonee River (“yellow waters”) intersects with the Dead River, perhaps so named because its movement isWho Has My Back 0215 barely perceptible. Together, the two make their way to the Gulf of Mexico.

The Ochlockonee State River Park is one of the most pristine parks I have visited in Florida and is particularly rich in wildlife, some whose existence were unknown to me such as the white squirrel.

The “history” of the white squirrel is rich and varied, sometimes involving King Charles of Spain (1499) while other explanations are more scientific and involve gene mutation. We enjoyed all the brochure stories and went in search of the white squirrel.

After some time on our own, we decided to ask a park ranger. Memories of past searches reminded us we might not be in the right location but we were among the live oaks, prime squirrel territory regardless of color.

What we did not have was a bag of chips to shake. Yet, we are a resourceful duo and are not given to giving up. While I rested, my friend walked among the live oaks, crinkling a bit of cellophane from a tissue package.

It was only as we began to drive away that we spotted a bit of white at the base of a live oak. It did not move—we almost did—before it did. While the squirrel snacked on acorns— aware of our underwhelming presence—we worked with the digital overload of our cameras.

For me, focus is always a challenge. Mine is the “aim, shoot, and hope” philosophy of photography. That may be why I prefer shots of the sea for no matter where I focus, there is always a wave.

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On some days the Gulf chopped, white capping in stark contrast to its tannic underbelly. Near the lighthouse of St. Mark’s, spring seemed a distant promise.  Off the shores of St. George, a barrier island, the clear Gulf waters lazily made their way to shore as if to say spring is on its way in its own time—as always.

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On Monday, February 23, this blog is participating in the Beauty of a Woman BlogFest, which my next post will feature. On March 1, regular Sunday blog posts will return. For now, let’s enjoy the interlude.

Every Day 0215

 

Monarch Meditations on Butterfly Warriors

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It is just dark, the morning darkness that precedes every dawn, the stillness before the splash of the sun that becomes the light of day. This is the pause—the moment of stillness—before the stirring begins yet again.

Most mornings I immerse myself into the stillness—my meditative state I call it—for when I do, there is a shimmer to the day that seems to rub off onto me as well.

Yet, there are days upon leaving my sleep state that I am aware of a mind-body consensus considering “what if we just rest today” and not really awaken. Mind knows that skipping meditation means body will not have to stretch itself with yoga.

There is a cascade of memories—perfect in their replaying of such lazy pleasure—of what past days of rest have meant: comfort food, marathon movie watching, binge reading.

It is the escape offered to the day at hand. Almost always, I decline the escape route. But every time I do, there is an acknowledged appreciation for what that escape once meant. It remains an old friend rarely visited.

Instead, I sit and remember the warrior monarch butterfly, a true bodhisattva and a welcome memory on the mornings I hesitate to meditate. The complete metamorphosis of the butterfly reminds me why I meet each day I am given.

It is the butterfly who gives up one way of life after another—each stage fraught with life-ending possibilities—for to fly is to know the freedom of walking on air. From the stillness of the larva the caterpillar stirs to its search for sustenance, consuming one leaf after another.

There is a reward for all this eating, and it is not one of rest but rather it is the spinning of a pupa—the chrysalis—a chamber of life as tissue, limbs, and organs of a body that once crawled become a body that now flies.

No new life emerges until the old is transformed into what is necessary for the life that awaits.

And for the monarch warriors, there is a 2,500-mile migration critical to its survival, a quest that relies not on individual warrior monarchs but on all monarch warriors living their lives to ensure the species.

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The monarch warrior moves through one form of life after another without wondering about the ways of existence. Such consideration falls within the realm of the human species.

We yearn to be like the monarchs, warriors working together, not singularly, to ensure our species survival. We might ache for metamorphosis but we do not easily let go of our accumulated experiences, especially those that seem to require so much of us.

“We don’t want to go through that again,” we say, which we won’t, of course, not exactly. Perhaps the monarch warrior does know this.

We want to spread our wings without changing who we are. We are agreeable to making necessary changes—an adjustment of our very being—as long as we are allowed to keep what is most dear.

We may not be as fearless or as selfless as the warrior monarch but we are just as connected to existence. We are born with the capacity for complexity rather than the singularity of purpose of the warrior monarch.

I have to wonder just what the warrior monarch might know for it is my nature to wonder. And so I do. On most mornings in the stillness before the stirring begins yet again.

Monarch Moments in a Sunny Land

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It is some weeks since I spent a morning among the monarch butterflies at St. Mark’s Wildlife Refuge. On their way to Mexico to overwinter, the monarchs make a multi-generational trek of 3,000 miles in spring and fall.

It is in the sunny lands they survive.

It seems to take at least four generations of butterflies to complete the trek. Only the monarchs know when it is time to go and for that matter, where to go. Some monarchs live as long eight months but others only long enough to mate and to lay eggs—a life of two to six weeks.

Because the trek is multi-generational, how do the butterflies always know? That is the mystery of the monarch migration. Inadvertently, mystery may be the greatest asset the monarchs have as they struggle to survive as a species.

Humans love a mystery. Often, we will take steps to preserve what we “have not yet figured out.” Recently, the monarch migration attracted the attention of the Canadian, American, and Mexican governments.

Perhaps the uniqueness of the monarch migration—its mystery—will hold their attention span long enough to restore butterfly habitat, thereby helping other pollinators as well. Perhaps….

At St. Mark’s Wildlife Refuge, there has been a Monarch Festival for 26 years but in 2014 there was worry as less than a handful had arrived–but the monarchs did not miss their festival—they showed up one day before it began.

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All these thoughts were mine as I sat among the monarchs—and that is almost literally true—for I was the lone human on a bench by the sea, next to bushes of butterflies. Gulf and sky were one shade of blue, shimmering in a sunny land.

Knock on the sky and listen to the sound!
Zen saying

In my moments with the monarchs, there seems no mystery, just a longing for sunny lands whether north or south. Neither the trek nor the distance matters. It is a migration for sunny lands, a yearning for survival, realizing that in order to arrive one must leave.

I watch the monarchs flock to saltbush, goldenrod and dotted horsemint bushes, diligent and methodical, trusting in the sun of this day as they spread their wings. They are on the move, after all.

He who binds to himself a joy

Does the winged life destroy

He who kisses the joy as it flies

Lives in eternity’s sunrise

(Eternity, William Blake)

So it is to knock on the sky and listen.

Postscript:

As I sat among the monarchs that day, the refrain of “Sunnyland,” a Hot Tamale original ballad, played in my mind. On one level, it is a song of the human desire to migrate to sunny lands but like the monarch mystery, it has other levels.

Within a week of my moments with monarchs, Meredith published the succinct, “Milkweed Meditation.” The milkweed is the monarchs’ favorite bush.

Finally, the initial count of monarch butterflies may be up this year, a first in a long time, and the migration mystery remains.

Looking Through the Life Lens

Waverly in Fall 0914
Focus is adjusting the aperture of the life lens to reveal the ever-changing depth of field. Sometimes, life requires a wide open lens—the big picture—often, the aperture is small, open only to the current moment. Big or small, clarity creates perspective.

The turning of the life lens is like a kaleidoscope, quick glimpses of what might be, any and all a possibility. Not all choices will be clear, even momentarily, but those chosen find a forever as memories, a clarity all its own.
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These days, my life lens hardly knows where to focus for my aperture is wide open, the depth of field possibilities ever-expanding. I know that infinite possibilities exist in each moment but every once in a while life is so large, it’s hard to decide where to focus first.

Almost daily now, I walk Waverly pond and park for a little focus practice.  Waverly residents are used to me and my aged, Kodak camera. Many of my photographic attempts resemble a quick turn through a kaleidoscope. Later, no amount of digital manipulation provides focus but in memory, focus has soft edges.Losing One's Head 0914

Of late, the resident pair of red-shouldered hawks have been quite fond of perching atop the “no fishing, no swimming” signs that are positioned on opposite sides of the pond.

I have yet to get a focused photo of their perching but I included one in last week’s post, anyway.  From these two vantage sign points, the hawks’ presence on the pond and the surrounding park is a constant and clear reminder to all.

I have learned how close I can get to the hawks, which is usually just out of the depth of field for my Kodak lens. Auto-focus is insufficient so I keep trying different settings.

The hawks balance patiently, providing me one opportunity after another but only my life lens captures the essence of these moments forever.Ghostly Egret 0914

Eventually, I get a clear, sharp picture of the sign sans hawk. This is focus practice after all. Inadvertently, I capture a snowy egret in the background; its image more ghost-like than feather and flesh.

I continue my walk around the pond toward the egret, stopping to lean against a recently pruned ashI see You 0914 tree. I focus the Kodak lens through tree branches and find the egret looking at me so I look back. We stay this way for a bit before the egret returns to fishing, and I, to my walk.

Recently, the neighborhood association added a wooden swing. It is so comfortable that it is rarely unoccupied. From here, the view is as wide open as my life lens aperture can get–timeless focus.

The wooden swing is my last stop. Often, the hawks join me, either alight the light post or perching on the connecting power wire. On overcast, drizzling days, grub from the ground is a favorite.

Sitting on the swing makes focusing the Kodak even more of a challenge. For me, it is a swing in perpetual motion for my feet cannot touch the ground so I sit forward for focus.

The Kodak results resemble turns of a kaleidoscope, with an occasional exception, but my life lens continuously captures Waverly for a lifetime of remembering.
Waverly Swing 1014

 

The Conquering of Self: All in a Day’s Outing

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It is a spring day of which poets write and painters paint but my mind is all a jumble as thoughts tumble, each more urgent than the last. My body has joined the revolt, sending one pain message after another. This mind-body battle means it is a perfect day to take myself off to Waverly.

It is better to conquer yourself than to win a thousand battles.
~ Buddha ~

No matter how many times I visit Waverly, it whispers to me, sometimes to remind and other times to reveal. Regardless, a breath here is less ragged with frustration. The mind-body battle is still present but now resides at the edge of my awareness as if the stillness of Waverly is all-pervasive.

Waverly offers something for each of my senses. With the focus of a juggler tossing each ball high enough so that the others remain in the air, I take in one view completely before leaving it for another. In a moment’s stance, the mind-body is absorbed otherwise.

Standing at the edge of the circle of live oaks whose branches intertwine into a year-round canopy of shade, Waverly as park and pond is mine to survey. I will not walk the park and pond today but I decide to try to make my way to the bench on the bridge that crosses the pond.

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My steps are deliberate, almost mindful, as my right knee wobbles. My focus shifts to the pain in my shin and then to my calf and back up my thigh into my hip. I take in what I have come to know as a “pain breath,” which gives me a way to communicate with it.

Sometimes, the pain will release but this is not one of those times. Again, I assume the juggler’s focus, tossing the pain as high and as far away as I can, knowing it will come round again but I have made it to the bridge.

Waverly has never seemed so vibrant. I have lost count of the times that thought has come to me as Waverly’s purity of color and panorama of life stun. This is a world not shy about life.

There is tightness in my lower back but this time it releases simultaneously with my noticing parent geese and their two, yellow-brown goslings in full down just at the edge of the other side of the bridge.

I will not disturb you is the only thought of which I am aware as I quietly open my camera. The sun is behind me so all I can do is aim and hope that the goose family is somewhere in one of the shots but regardless, my mind’s eye has this one.

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In my three years of visiting Waverly, these are the first goslings I have seen.  My entire mind-body watches with a focus that had seemed impossible moments earlier. This has been a spring of uncertainty.

The hawk and the geese 0514The red-shouldered hawk also decides to watch from atop the light post, perhaps to watch for a failure in focus, perhaps not. The parent geese are ever alert while the goslings are otherwise engaged yet in this moment, the world is theirs. They do not dawdle in their gusto of being alive.

As a human, I am easily snagged by the “what if” of drama but in the natural world, life is lived as it comes. Each moment is so precious, so all-consuming that it cannot possibly be anything but enough.

I rub my right leg in gratitude for each sensation it sends, as my mind opens to being rather than to battle. Such is possible with each breath, this being in life as it is. How it dazzles.