Lessons of the Crow

So fellow travelers, when I returned home from my recent road trip a package greeted me which I enthusiastically tore open to find……


Yes, Indeed, this is a crow themed handmade potholder.

First of all it is handmade by gifted fabric artist Maria Wulf (you can see more of her wonderful work here)  I had just seen Maria at the event I was returning from.  Synchronicity.

I have a couple of Maria’s potholders, this one with Simon is perhaps my favorite.


Although a close second is the potholder with one of the barn cats in the apple tree which I gave to my daughter, who has always wished we could have another cat.  Yes I know a cat pot holder is not an adequate substitute for a cat, however a potholder is also not a known allergy trigger. Both she and my husband are allergic to cats.

When Maria posts new sets pf her potholders I tell myself  I have enough of them.  Then again can one ever have enough art? Especially art that is whimsical, colorful and unique?  Still, there are many artists whose work I hope to add to my growing CGBF Gallery. So I try to pace my purchases.

However when she posted the crow potholders there was not one second of hesitation at my end. I sent off a message pronto  to request one because crows hold  special significance to me.

Much like music, bird calls evoke powerful memories for me.  The raucous rasp of blue jays takes me right back to hot summer days weeding my grandfather’s tiny garden in the Bronx.  If I hear the chatter of magpies and high pitched cries of seagulls , I am sitting in the bamboo rocker on a porch in Hong Kong.  Loons laughing take me lakeside in the Adirondacks.

Crows remind me of Tokyo.  They filled the trees that lined the Tokugawa Compound residental area in Meijiro where my parents lived in the late 70’s.  Every morning their harsh cacophony would wake people before sunrise. Anytime someone emerged from a house the crows found it necessary to comment.  They would taunt dogs who ran barking from tree to tree. They taunted cats too, but most felines simply continued their stoic sauntering along the top of garden walls apparently deaf to the insults being hurled from the tree tops.

We have several crows who hang around our yard.  I see them feasting on road kill, in fact we often say crows feasting on road kill is one of Central New York’s reliable signs of spring.  I hear them when I camp throughout all of New York’s wonderful State Parks.  Still, even though I have lived here for almost 40 years, it is Tokyo that comes to mind when I hear crows calling.

After I received Maria’s crow potholder, I sat with it and listened within to decipher what they say to me.  I hear many messages, about honoring ancestoral roots, flying straight and speaking one’s truth.  This correlates with the Native American totem of Crow who symbolizes the dark mysteries of creation and an ability to see through deception.

When we visited Tokyo in the spring of 2010 I noticed there seemed to be fewer crows than I remembered some twenty years ago.  Knowing  the government effort put towards creating and keeping a cleaner urban environment throughout Tokyo I don’t imagine it was a natural reduction in population.

However, the day my younger daughter and I made it out to Meijiro to walk the streets of Tokugawa Compound the crows were there, as raucous and vocal as ever.  I swear it sounded like they were hollering: ” Where have you been? Have you managed to make something of yourself? Is that YOUR kid?  You should feed her more .”


It was music to my ears as their yakking brought back such wonderful memories.  Tokyo had changed so much in the years since I last navigated it’s busy streets. Somehow this residential section had remained relatively untouched by change, transporting me back to my late teens. We walked along the streets, I showed her the house where her grandparents had lived; I told her how the crows would chatter every time we came and went, how her uncles called them “pterodactyls.”

I suspect the crows might not be in Meijiro when we return to Tokyo this August to bring that same daughter who is about to graduate from high school to attend college at TUJ.  The beautiful quiet streets and spacious houses of the Tokugawa Compound have been leveled to make way for modern rental housing. I don’t know if the huge trees remained and I doubt I will want to go back to find out. It was grand to be back on those streets for that one day, to recapture the time I spent there visiting my family when I was in college here in New York. Now, my youngest daughter will be leaving home, traveling the same distance in the other direction to go to college.  What strange synchronicity.

Besides, I have plenty of new locations on my list to explore, both in and beyond Tokyo. I know I will be looking for the crows, listening carefully because I want to hear what they have to say.


Editorial Postscript:  literally minutes after I completed and shared this entry  fellow CGBF member, Glenn Curtis posted a crow photo of extraordinary detail.  You can find it here along with  his timely thoughts about awareness  and the inner sanctuary of our hearts and minds.  They spoke to me with crow wisdom.

Walk gently on the path my friends and may adventure find your ready.

Guest Post: All You Need to Know

So  fellow travelers,  I could write day and night yet still fall short of reaching the essence of life in the gracious, succinct  style of fellow CGBF poet Tom Atkins.   Today his poem renewed my faith in Truth.  Give yourself the gift of visiting his page and reading it.

Poem: All You Need to Know.


Walk gently on the path my friends and may adventure find you ready

The Story of Spring 2015 43.167° N, 76.33° W.

So fellow travelers,  I am currently taking an online photography class from CGBF photo guru Jeff Anderson. The classes I gifted myself with last year pushed me out of “auto” mode and gave me the basic photoshop skills I needed to make steady progress with my Canon DSLR.  This class is assignment based;  Jeff gives us a themed assignment, we shoot, he guides and critiques, we learn. His assignments are always challenging, designed to get us to step outside our individual boxes and stretch our techniques. I refer back to the notes from previous classes whenever one of my own photo expeditions doesn’t quite produce the results I was seeking.

I look forward to the assignments but I must admit the current one has been a bit of a bummer:

Spring Equinox!  Today (the assignment was posted last Friday) is the first day of spring. With anywhere from one to four pictures (NO MORE THAN FOUR!) Tell us the story of spring’s arrival where you are. 

Use the whole weekend, maybe into Monday. Let the pix tell your story, no words necessary. “

I spirits sank as I looked out the window where a fresh cloud of Lake Effect snow was sugar coating the little quilt squares of grass that dared emerge so soon and beautifying ugly black speckled roadside snowbanks. Ummmm, yeah. I have a whole folder full of pretty snow pictures, I have yet to see a robin anywhere on my walking routes and I just don’t imagine emerging frozen dog poop will look photogenic. ( I tried; it wasn’t)

I posted a comment on the assignment page that my photos might bear a stronger resemblance to a collection of Christmas Cards and Jeff responded it doesn’t have to look like spring, just tell the story ( without words) of springs arrival in our respective areas. Armed with his encouragement I decided to bundle up and get started.

So for the past three days, I headed out at different times (with hopes the flat grey light would yield different qualities….it didn’t) for about an hour of finger chilling photo journaling of the 2015 Vernal Equinox at 43.167° N, 76.33° W.

My first day’s find was the pattern of new fallen snow on the back porch snow shovel

IMG_2458           IMG_2460


but when I tried to use the macro mode to capture super close ups of the tiny flakes I wasn’t able to access the setting.  It would take too long to unlace my boots to trudge upstairs to find my camera manual. I moved on.



A combination of warmer temps, sunshine ( yes it does happen here occasionally) and strong wind gusts followed by an overnight freeze last weekend has trapped  my pond “percolator” at an odd angle.  I have left it running, because if one looks closely one can see the heated tube is just warm enough to create a sliver of open water around it.  That will have to suffice for the fish (there are survivors, we’ve seen them swimming below the surface of the ice) until the pond really thaws.

Day two was a wash, it started with a swirling white out which changed to rain by mid morning. I was on the road by then anyway to help crew the drumline show and would not be back until after dark.

So although this morning dawned grey and snowy I headed outside once more for Day Three of my quest.

See?  More like Christmas than spring.


My garden reindeer still frolicking in the snow.

Yes those lights still come on at night. I can’t get to the outlet to unplug the timer.




The only birds to be found were the little fellows perched on St Francis.  They change color depending on the ambient humidity (blue is low, pink is air-con time) Do that count as “blue” birds of spring? I did find his shot at the big feeder.




I consider this my most successful image.  I wish there had been better light to make the snow sparkle more, but I am pleased with the shot; other than the addition of the signature this is SOC.

I had brought a bucket of seed to refill the feeder with me. When I was done, I finally found what I was looking for.

The one little signature of Spring, quietly waiting to be noticed in the debris under the Mountain Laurel bush.




End of Story….

Or on second thought  a New Beginning

Walk gently on the path my friends and may adventure find you ready.

Sunday’s at the Rescue: Bama

So fellow travelers, Janet Rath, the amazing vet tech at the rescue where I volunteer posted this great shot of Bama, a stunning long legged beauty whom so many of us love to walk and play with.



Bama is a wonderful dog  with two strikes against her.

She’s black

and she’s big.

Imagine the backlash I would create if I said a child was less adoptable because she was black? or big?

In his talk at a fund raiser for the Nor’Wester Readers Canine Assisted Learning Program this past Sunday, author Jon Katz raised some important issues about dog rescue. I’ve been pondering the thoughts his points raised for me for a few days. Something about this shot of beautiful Bama pulled things together.

In a nutshell Bama is a classic example of why I keep giving my time and energy to dog rescue.

She is homeless through no fault of her own.  It is a common myth that dogs end up in shelters because they have behavioral issues. As any professional dog trainer knows a dog’s behavioral issues generally reflect either poor or a lack of training. As Jon was told by a trainer he worked with: “If you want a better dog you have to be a better human.”  It is also a fact that behavioral issues are way down on the list of reasons dogs end up in shelters.

She’s smart and has responded well to training. Even the best behaved dog will need extra support when they come into the shelter system because kennel life is stressful. This is especially true for dogs who find themselves in a shelter after living in a home because they have been “surrendered.”

She’s affectionate.  It’s another common myth that shelter dogs are a bigger bite risk than dogs acquired from breeders.  Yes, knowledgeable, responsible professional breeders can and do breed for temperament, whether that is the kid friendly affability of a lab or the razor sharp focus of a working border collie.  Still, even well bred dogs can, will and do bite if scared, attacked or seriously hurt. Being an independent non-profit operation, our rescue has the advantage of being able to choose which dogs are brought into our kennels.  This is why Helping Hounds is considered a rescue not a shelter.

She is appreciative of every minute of time and attention she is given.  Unlike many of the humans I deal with on a daily basis,  (individuals whom I am being paid good taxpayer dollars to assist) the dogs at the rescue are always happy to see me.  Even the ones who come in so scared they need to be enticed out of their crates at first are soon wagging their tails and willing to walk or at least snuggle on the couch within a few days.  These dogs take in everything I have to offer, every single time I show up.

She is safe now. If Helping Hounds had not opted to take Bama granting her a slot on the North bound transport last month, she would no longer be walking this earth with those long graceful legs.  Her boundless spirit and energy would have been extinguished simply because her “time was up.”  That “time” can be a brief as a week or as long as a month and when that time comes, the dog is killed regardless of temperament, health or age.

Which is why adopting a shelter dog is often referred to as “rescue,”  to address one observation Jon made in his talk. It is I think worth noting the families who send in updates almost always refer to their dogs as “adopted,”  after all the contract says “adoption.”  The current trend of using the term rescue/rescue dog draws attention to the larger social issue of the high kill rate at too many shelters. It’s an issue the word “adoption” demurely sidestepped for decades because no one wanted to admit the high number of animals being killed at shelters.  (The entire “no-kill” concept is a topic requiring it’s own post)

Let me be clear. I am not one of those who believe everyone who wants a dog has a morale obligation to adopt a rescue dog. That’s a point where some of my rescue friends and I part ways and I am fine with that point of departure. I agree with Jon’s thoughtful process of considering all the aspects of how an animal fits into one’s life. There is a valid calling for knowledgeable, responsible professional breeders, none of whom would ever sell their dogs to petstores or to people sight unseen over the internet or through craigslist.

If the rescue community is going to achieve their goals of making a difference in the long term, we do need to address the larger social issues such as spay/neuter, breeder licensing, breed discrimination and the criminal element of systemic abuse. Most rescues, like the operation I am part of have their hands full just trying to find good homes for the many sweet souls who come through their doors.

Souls like sweet sweet Bama.

Walk gently on the path my friends and may adventure find you ready.

Editorial Note:  Sunday’s at the Rescue is a series of posts about my experiences working with rescue dogs.  It is named for  Sunday, a sweet young dog who came through the rescue where I volunteer, stole a piece of my heart (as so many of them do) and got herself adopted into a great home.

As for Miss Bama, we are happy to update our post with the news she was adopted April 3rd  by a wonderful family who are looking forward to running and playing with her for years to come.




Garden Angel

So fellow travelers, in search of a subject for an assignment in a photography class I came upon this tiny spirit in my parent’s garden.  Although the photo did not quite yield the image I needed for the assignment,  the feeling it created stayed with me long enough to form a haiku:


Small but holding fast

Garden Angel keeping faith

Helping spring return.


Walk gently on the path my friends and may adventure find you ready.

The 4.0 Challenge: Take Two

So fellow travelers,  when last we checked in on the 4.0 challenge, we were standing at a 3.8 mile point listening to a flock of redwing blackbirds herald the impending return of spring.

Knowing the other direction off this first route would bring me to a busy commercial district during peak after work “busy-ness” hours I opted to back track home.  I reset my odometer as I passed my driveway and headed the other way down the road. At the first intersection I had to choose whether to turn left or right.  Right would take me on a long road lined with farms and fields. Easy fodder for photographic opportunities, maybe even too easy. I turned left.

Left placed me on a route which passed an elementary school. several zombie like semi-melted snowpersons and many houses, one of them the residence of my son-in-laws parents. Note to self : my “fellow-in-laws” live exactly 3.2 miles from us and it has been too long since we got together for good food and drinks; call them asap.  A few minutes later I was pleased to see a small triangle park which hosts free music events and an art fair every summer come into view just as the numbers rolled over to 3.9

Slowing down to be sure to note the exact location of the 4.0 point I realized most of the park was still buried under heavy snow cover, however the sidewalks around the park were clear.  Unfortunately, because the park is in the center of a small village, across from several popular eateries, not a single parking spot was open along the park or for several blocks in the immediate area.  I would have to come back at a better time.

That time would prove to be very early in the morning a few days later.  I was heading out of town on a road trip to Bucks County PA to hear author Jon Katz speak at a fund raiser event for Nor’Western Readers Canine Assisted Learning Program.  Several CGBF friends would be attending and the trip gave me an opportunity to visit my parents who live nearby.  Traveling solo afforded me the opportunity to stop at will for any photo ops which might catch my eye.  So I pulled into a parking spot alongside the park right at the 4.0 mile mark.


I am still garnering experience in working with my digital camera settings but I sense I am getting better at figuring out which shutter speeds and f/stops to use in given conditions.  I practice by shooting the same shot using different settings.

IMG_2393                           IMG_2394

Glenn’s challenge directs us to look around at the 4.0 mark and see whats there in unique ways.


Hmmm….. ok…. a lighthouse in the center of town is somewhat unique.

And I liked the lines these park benches made against the snow



I know there’s a bit of Haiku hiding in this image.

Oh and look here in the snow, something for the group thread on what melting snow reveals


Never mind why  someone chucked an empty oil container and of course I just picked it up and put it in my car to dispose of properly later.   Hello, what’s that sound?

No it’s not  redwing blackbirds, this time it is the thrum thrum of a blackhawk


Yes I know it’s probably not really a blackhawk, but I was thrilled to find the right shutter speed to capture a freeze frame of it’s roters before it whirred out of range.

As I watched it zip away that’s when I saw it.


A clock? Wait,since when did this park have an old style clock?


Oh ok, it is a relatively new addition and  I give myself some leeway since the clock sits at the apex of the triangle shaped park ( go back and look closely at the wide shot of the park) where busy traffic zooms by on either side and I am always focused on being in the correct lane for getting through the intersection.

Deep snowbanks on one side and the busy intersection on the other meant I would have to shoot from a side angle or looking straight up. It took several tries which resulted in two shots I consider post worthy.  One I edited in black and white so the tree arms “holding” the clock face stand out more….



and then this image  which I got by happy accident, hitting the button while adjusting focus




There’s a poem in there somewhere.


Walk gently on the path my friends and may adventure find you ready. 




The 4.0 Challenge: Take One

So fellow travelers, a fellow member of the Bedlam Farm creative group recently posted a challenge for us.  Glenn Curtis is an AMAZING photographer, excellent writer and fabulous chef…oh yeah and he has a wonderful dog named Elka.  Glenn tantalizes us with his gourmet cooking, draws us in with his descriptive writing and inspires awe with his superlative photography.  Don’t take my word for it, check out his blog, seeing, reading and eating (he shares recipes) is believing.

Glenn’s challenge is called 4.0.  The idea is to set your odometer to zero and then drive exactly 4.0 miles ( not 3.9,not 4.1,  FOUR POINT ZERO) stop and look, really look at what is there to inspire a photograph, poem or bit of bloggery.

As he does with his blog, Glenn’s intention is to get us to experience something new.  As people began to post their photos and accompanying stories there were some common themes.  Many set out with a specific destination in mind, only to find that location was either just over or under the requiste 4.0 mile marker.  Yet, true to our group’s spirit, participants persisted until they found something post worthy, whether that meant making the best of the location they ended at or heading out on a different route.

Since we have a three driver/two car household with a happily employed soon to be college student, I have to take my driving options when I can get them which meant I had to wait a few days after the challenge posted to hit the road. As posts cropped up I took note of how people made the most of their experiences. Knowing I might only have one or two chances this week to try my luck I thought a great deal about which routes to take on my first run.

As luck would have it, my first run came on a sunny, warm day….well ok normally 45° F isn’t warm but after the January-February five week run of temps below freezing it felt like heaven…besides the SUN was SHINING, a seasonally rare occurrence in Syracuse.  I grabbed my camera, zeroed my odometer and headed up our road to the scenic bridge and river outlooks I anticipated would be at 4.0.

Yup, just like my fellow challenge takers discovered, the result was “close but missing the mark.”  The bridge was too soon and the scenic lookout was too far.  What turned up at 4.0 was a sharp bend with no shoulder on either side. No, I would not be stopping here.

I backtracked to mile 3.2 where a turn onto a side road would take me to the head of a walking trail.  Only the road ended at 3.8 miles and the massive snowbank plowed up against the gate at the trailhead made it impossible to walk the final two tenths of a mile. Drats. Foiled again.

But wait….what was that I was hearing just up the trail?  Could it be?

YES!  the unmistakable “zingy” twitter of RED WING BLACKBIRDS.  I could just make out their dark forms restlessly flitting around two large trees up the road.  Too far for even my telephoto lens to get any kind of shot, but my heart sang with joy because the return of the redwings is a definitive sign of spring.  And as my heart sang, the song turned into this haiku:

Zhreee chuck chuck zhree zhing!

Spring has landed in the trees

Redwings have returned



(Listen…can you hear them?  Right through those trees ……)


Walk gently on the path my friends and may adventure find you ready.

Enough is enough

So fellow travelers,  this morning I came across a phenomenal photo and poem posted by Jon Katz on his Bedlam Farm Blog.  Jon is the founder, mentor and “grand poohbah” of the Creative Group at Bedlam Farm, which I reference here frequently.  If you want to know more about us, look it up on Facebook. Our posts are open for public viewing but not commentary; that’s how the admins keeps the negativity out, the positive inspiration flowing and the ministry of encouragement thriving.

He posted the photo on the CGBF page first and it has generated an inspiring chain of responses from my fellow members reflecting the rich diversity within our group.  Soon after, I came across his blog entry with the added poem.  The one-two impact of the combined photo and poem kick started something deep within me.

It’s no secret this has been one hell of a winter. It started out deceptively benign.  Back in January Syracuse actually set a record for the longest consecutive days without measurable snowfall. For a city that routinely wins the Golden Snowball (a friendly competition between cities in Upstate New York for the highest seasonal snowfall total) that is an unusual statistic.  To be honest, given Buffalo’s unprecedented “Lake Effect” event back in November, which dumped between five to seven feet of snow over several days in a small area just east of the city limits we were more than happy to concede this year’s award before the season had even begun.  No one in CNY was eager to catch up to that kind of snowfall total, even spread out over the an entire season.

Somehow Old Man Winter didn’t get that memo, because sometime during the last week in January it started snowing …. daily …. everyday ….. for twenty three straight days along with record cold. (I put in the link to verify the data)  For the first time in twenty-eight years the dog(s) and I were snowed in.

I live on a busy road, hazardous to walk on at anytime but rendered too dangerous in winter when the shoulder disappears under snowplow created snowbanks several feet high. So, to get to the area where I walk, I cut through my kind and tolerant neighbor’s backyard.  Every year there is a point where I have to clear several paths from our deck to the dogs’ yard, the bird feeders and across my yard to the street beyond. I wrote about this last year when we were snowed in for a few days during the 2014 Winter Olympics.

This year it was all I could do to keep clearing the paths to the dogyard, bird feeders and my pond ( I have to keep the aerator clear of snow)

    pondpercpath100dpi                          pondperc100dpi

At times I shoveled two or three times a day, each round taking well over half an hour.  The path through the backyard was lost within a week and remains completely buried. Unfortunately  so are all the walking paths in the local parks within reasonable driving distance, not that either our or the foster dogs were anxious to stay out long during February’s record setting subzero cold snap.

This past week we did finally break into double digits ABOVE zero with one or two days just at or slightly above the magic 32° F mark.  The snowpack however is both deep and dense even as Lake Ontario so generously continues to add here and there to the totals.  Just ten minutes of attempting to expand the trails out back ended in a half hour stretched out on a yoga mat with an ice pack tucked under my back.

Jon’s poem about sadness and the accompanying photo of the abandoned house in the snow set loose a roaring reaction. I realized just how depressed and trapped I had been feeling. “Enough is enough,” I said to a startled Delilah seated on the couch next to me. I snapped my laptop shut, threw on snowpants, laced up my heavy duty snowhikers and headed with fierce determination to the back yard.

Recent deer tracks among the many critter trails leading too and from the large bird feeder near my pond gave me an idea for finding a way out of the backyard.

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Using the broad footprint of my snowhikers and the shovel for support, I started plowing my way across the back yard from the pre-shoveled bird feeder path, along the deer trail towards my neighbor’s fence line.


I knew I would have to shovel at some point but at first it was less strenuous to simply stomp through the snow.  I took frequent breaks, sipping water to stay hydrated.  It didn’t take long for me to shed my down vest.  About midway through the yard I hit snow up to my knees.  At that point I began shoveling the top few feet and then stomping down the remaining snow.

halfway stop 100dpi

Looking at the depth of the deer tracks it hit me just how long those nimble legs really are.


I made slow but steady progress until I hit the corner where our neighbor’s yard meets ours.  One step forward and I was in snow up to my hips! Using the shovel for leverage I struggled out of the snow pit onto the path I had created behind me. Looking at the snow drifted up against his fence I knew this section was likely to be deep for quite a ways, if not all the way to his driveway.  I stuck the shovel in handle a few feet beyond where I had sunk into the snow to check the depth.



Soooo close, yet so far.


Since Daylight Savings Time kicked in last night I guess it will now stay light long enough after work for me to drive to a park where the running trails are cleared and get in a decent walk before dark.

DAMMIT  Winter you win.

But I swear only just this year.  I’m investing in snowshoes for next winter.


My trusty winter hiking boots with a set of EMS stabl-icers  courtesy of my fantastic CGBF sister Kate Rantilla.


Walk gently on the path my friends and may adventure find you ready.







So fellow travelers after five weeks of relentless bone chilling cold,  sub zero wind chills and daily snowfall we have finally hit our first few days of temps above freezing.  Lest we get comfortable enough to don shorts and flip flops, Old Man Winter  has been careful to throw in a few nights of single digits, both above and below zero. No worries. Around here our snow shovels park by  the front and back porch doors well into April.  The zig zag weather did encourage this little haiku.


Bird songs. Sounds like spring

Snow drifts high as budding trees

March Lion or Lamb?




Spring is under there…… somewhere.


Walk gently on the path my friends and may adventure find you ready.



So fellow travelers, eighteen years ago today an amazing spirit came into my life. She challenges me every day to think outside the box, makes me forever proud for the ways she pushed herself to grow and embrace this adventure we call life.  These words celebrate the gift of being her Mom.  I look forward to the years of celebration to come



Born fist first

Ready to grab hold of everything life has to offer

Climbing before she walked

Plucking at my heart strings

Making her own music

Marching always to her own rhythm


Thoughts turning inward

Eyes focused sky high

Ready to fly

I love so I let go




Happy Birthday Emma Mariko Rahalski. May the year ahead bring you closer to your dreams.