The Bird in my Heart

So fellow travelers, you know that expression about a bird in hand being worth two in the bush? Well, how many birds would one from the heart equate to?

Once a year, since 2006 on the third Saturday of May, I set out on a special birding adventure called Birdathon. Essentially, it’s a 24hr birding challenge and fundraiser for our local Audubon Society. I’ve written about it a few times and it is one of my favorite adventures of the year. It’s exhausting, exhilarating, frustrating and fascinating all at once. After all it’s no easy task to locate and identify as many different species within a set region in just one day. It’s even harder without my fellow “loonatic.” Missing Favorite Youngest Daughter’s trained ear for pitch and cadence I am often at a loss trying to identify a distant call, even with the aid of my arsenal of birding apps. Since our last run as Team Loonatics in 2016 I’ve been flying solo as it were and even when the weekend holds other commitments I feel the pull to head out because this event holds meaning much deeper than tally marks on a check list.

At every location there are threads which wove a bond between the spirit of this willful, fiercely independent child and my stubborn mother’s heart. The day is not about the numbers. It has evolved into a ritual of reconnection, so even when I’m standing by myself on a trail, listening intently, I am not alone. As my brain is pulling up the memory of things my daughter taught me about pitch and cadence, my heart feels the joy of precious moments shared.

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Distant songs echo

Love transcends time and distance

A mother’s heart heals

One day Team Loonatics will venture out again, perhaps for the Global Big Day at locations we’ve never charted before. Until then, I keep listening and living the lessons learned on the path of Motherhood .

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

Journey

So fellow travelers, I find myself navigating airports, car rentals and unfamiliar highways this weekend on an unplanned journey

This is a trip prompted by a calling of the heart, a response to a feeling, an inner directive this is a time when hugs need to be given in person.

After two consecutive major winter storms which disrupted air travel and shutdown major roads in the Midwest and East Coast, Mother Nature blessed my flights here with clear weather.

Even with a snowy drive to reach my destination last night, the morning brought a cold but beautiful sunrise, complete with a halfmoon cookie in the sky.

The memorial I am here to attend is a tribute to a friend’s husband, a man I never met in person yet feel as if I now know well through the wonderful stories his colleagues and friends gave at the celebration.

And what a beautiful celebration this has been. A room full of so many people, of all ages, ethnicities, backgrounds, callings and professions all touched by one extraordinary human whose life has been dedicated to kindness, family and joy.

Oh yes, and pie

~ lots and lots of pie because he loves pie just as he loves others, all kinds are equally awesome.

“Loves”, in the present tense because as a family friend said in her tribute, the essence of who he was as a person, his energy, still is. She referenced the Law of Conservation of Energy, a basic principle of physics and her words proved true.

Love, kindness and joy filled that room, embraced my friend and her two young daughters, already working to mend their broken hearts. Their lives, forever changed, will go on supported and surrounded by the “bigger circle” he created for them.

Ducks at a park nearby.

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

Walking Towards the Light

So fellow travelers, even after hitting “publish,” the last entry felt incomplete, yet I had resolved to start writing again, so I pushed an ending onto it and posted the first entry for the year. It felt more like the final entry for last year and on thinking so, this quote came to mind:

So the last shall be first, and the first, last: for many are called, but few chosen.” (Matthew 20:16 ) King James Bible

It is no less mystifying to me now than when I first heard it in Sunday school over five decades ago, so rest assured I am not going to veer towards biblical pontification here.

All I know is when the phone call came this morning saying due to weather (ice this time instead of snow) school was closed, I grabbed a cup of coffee and the opportunity to sit down and review. After the final edit, I rarely re-read entries once they are posted because like an art teacher once taught us, there comes a time to put down the paint brush and walk away. Yet as I said there was something which felt incomplete, so I began re-reading and as I did, two things became clear
~ I am tired of being upset and angry about the past “situation” at work.
~ I am processing grief on several levels, past and present, and this process is weighed down by the unresolved anger so I need to attend to that first.

Traditional Japanese New Year’s decorations

Early in my exploration of spiritual paths, a group of friends and I learned a technique for working with challenging emotions. After going through the basic breathing for focus and relaxation, we visualized ourselves in a safe and sacred space. Once settled there, we would invite the emotion to enter the space, where it would be present but unable to hurt us in anyway. This allowed us to have a dialogue with the emotion to discover what it “needed” from us. The session had fascinating and for some, profoundly moving results. This morning I decided to sit with this unresolved anger and see what it had to say.

Often when I practice this technique, my anger appears as a restless, pacing tiger. Today it showed up as a snarling badger. My first thought was “I miss my tiger,” probably because while I respect the potential danger of a tiger’s power, they are after all simply big cats and I have almost as much affinity for cats as I do for dogs. We would have several if our current resident Diva was more accepting of cats. My tiger has become familiar, this badger was a mean, unpredictable intruder and it let me know in no uncertain terms it was RAVENOUS. When I asked what would satiate it’s hunger, it told me it wanted to eat my heart. No, I said, my heart holds all my hope and joy and you cannot have that. The badger screamed so loud it startled me,  but I also felt myself propelling all my frustration into that scream until there was nothing left. The badger** looked at me calmly, turned and walked away. I came out of this meditation with my heart racing and sense of release so powerful, I started sobbing.

It is time to relinquish my efforts to get any response from the district adminstration about the systemic failures which allowed a volatile situation to continue for so long. I will walk away from my career next year knowing I did what I could and hope the changes needed will come before any one is seriously physically harmed.

My time and energy are better given to other needs calling for my attention. Last year ended with a heartbreaking loss for a colleague, a young teacher whose first child was stillborn at seven months, something very close to my own experience 31 years ago. We began this year saying goodbye to an elder family member who had made the passage beyond life just before New Year’s Day. The carnations at her burial brought sudden memories of her sister ( my mother-in-law) who left this life two and a half years earlier.  A few weeks later our younger daughter returned to Portland, to continue her search for a way forward, her future more uncertain than this mother’s heart can abide. So those tears ran wild until there were none left give, running with my hope their salt can heal the fractures into a stronger spirit. Strength I will need for the journey come, because life goes on and it is time to set out on the path again.

Winter Light on a favorite path

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

**Postscript: In fairness to the many taxidea taxus who inhabit our region it should be noted that although they are omnivores who consumer small rodents and birds when they can catch them, their diet consists mainly of earthworms. I think my heart is safe.

Digging Out

So fellow travelers, Winter Storm Harper has me spending this extended weekend digging out in more ways than shoveling snow.


“Pixie Dust ?” Really, Mike Seidel? Because S*N*O*W by any other name is still a four letter word which needs to be repeatedly shoveled.

When I sat down to write my end of the year letter to send with my holiday cards, I re-read what I had written the year before:

“Reflecting back on this year of tremendous change I wonder at the grace which carried us through the challenges.”  

I could have cut and pasted those words right onto the page for this year’s letter, but that letter remains unwritten because the transition from last year to this has felt unsettled, as if both everything and nothing had changed. I simply could not or maybe would not muster my usual namaste vibe to pen an end of the year review with good wishes for the coming year. Worse yet, whenever I sat down to write anything it was like trying to surface from the bottom of a pool of sludge.

“No mud, no lotus” Thich Nhat Hanh*

A fellow writer and creative tribe friend posted a New Year’s blog which spoke about “unpacking the boxes” which held the emotions she had neatly packed away during the previous year of change and loss (you can read Kathy’s post here) and being snowed in over this extended weekend, I retrieved her brilliant idea from the “to do” file I had tucked it into.

As I started working through the blocks, pushing myself to write, I realized I had been ignoring the depth of fear and grief embedded in the some of last year’s experiences. When I returned to work in September, thankfully I was given assignments where I can truly support the students I am working with. I was simply grateful to enjoy my job again.

A few days in, I started having powerful dreams, terrifying and disturbing re-enactments of things we had endured the previous two years. I became increasingly aware there were emotional contusions in need of healing. Fortunately I had given myself the gift of signing up for an extended weekend at a spiritual retreat so within a week of these dreams arising I found myself in the California desert, not far from Joshua Tree National Park where my star gazing “moment” had occured.

The Sky’s the Limit Observatory located near Joshua Tree National Park

Reflecting on it now, I accept that as a truly mystical experience, a moment when the magnitude of what I was seeing literally generated a physical experience in my brain that awakened every cell and layer of my being. For that one moment I was no longer a body, I was Light traveling along the stars and I felt absolutely connected to everything and bound by nothing all at once. It was a moment of pure joy from simply being alive.

The Dance of Life, garden sculpture at sunrise RW Retreat Center

Healing has come, yet it’s slower than expected and I sense there is more to be done before I am ready to move on to the next stage of life. Digging out from under the doldrums, I see the disappointment at postponing my retirement another year was more pervasive than I wanted to admit. Now I am aware there is work yet to be done and I finally feel commited to completing it.

I am increasingly aware of the daily blessings of grace and healing which carried me through some truly terrifying moments and brought immeasurable joy. Highs and lows navigated by finding crucial balance points reinforced with faith. Every day I feel a deep gratitude for the sacred network of friends and family, near or far, who bring Light and Love into my life. They are the reason faith and hope are alive within me.


View from Blue Mountain Fire Tower, Adirondacks

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

*Thich Nhat Hanh has been an essential influence on my spiritual journey. The book, Peace is Every Step is a wonderful introduction to his teaching.

Reflections

So fellow travelers, 2018 draws to a close and time spent sorting through photos has me reflecting on the vast expanse of experiences this year brought.

Sunrise in the High Desert

For all the darkness of the low points which framed the first half of the year, I am beginning to glean the significance of the growth and insights gained. There is still healing and integration in progress, but this year definitely concludes on more hopeful, uplifting notes.

Seventh (or was it Eighth Lake?) in the Adirondacks

The last few weeks have brought some losses for people around me, and I have felt their grief more intensly than expected. Perhaps this is a measure of the extent to which challenging experiences have deepened my capacity for compassion. Yet at the same time, this intensity has not thrown my equilibrium off as it might have; I take this to be a measure of personal growth, not that I am resting on any laurels. Six decades plus a few more revolutions around the sun have taught me to avoid complacency.

Idyllic summer morning

Spending time with extended family over this holiday week points to some indicators of changes to come. A change in options at work has pushed my retirement plans out by one more year; it’s ok, I accept it as more time to bank resources for a future cross country road trip I’ve been plotting out.

Meanwhile there are plenty of adventures on the itinerary for 2019. Fortified an attitude of gratitude, a desire to continue seeking joy, and a deeper committment to practicing kindness for myself as well as others I will turn the calendar page with a heart wide open.


METEOR sculpture at the Oasis Visitor Center Joshua Tree National Park

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

The Miracle of Light

So fellow travelers, it has been a busy weekend filled with the final rounds of preparations for Christmas.

Residents scurry about our Christmas Village

In a little while we will visit some dear friends to share a meal and relish the laughter of excited children. Tomorrow we will chat via video or phone with family we hold far closer in our hearts than the many miles which separate us.

Downstairs, our humble little tree glows with lights and treasured ornaments carefully set in place by Favorite Youngest Daughter and a friend. Wrapped presents are gathering by the nativity which patiently waits for its final figures as we conclude my created tradition of candle nights. Favorite Youngest Daughter is sitting wrapped in a blanket on the couch watching the classic “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Her journey home has not been easy and today brought some heartache but as I said when I hugged her tight “All that matters is you are here, where you are so loved.”

Seeking solace, for heaven knows a mother’s heart aches when her daughters are hurting, I took our dog for a walk . A gentle snow is falling, quietly blanketing everything is the soft silence only snow can make.

Back at home, I opened several cards which recently arrived in the mail. One immediately recognizable photo taken by my dear friend and poet, Kate, brought a wave of glorious memories which washed away the sadness clouding my spirits. Gratitude filled my heart.

Just above the clouds 

The sun is always rising

 Hope’s within our reach

Photo of Mt. Monadnock, NH by Kate Rantilla
The cell phone capture of this beautiful card barely does it justice.

In one instant I was brought back to the joys of friends chasing light and finding connections through hours of shared creative adventures. Sisters of the soul, she calls us and indeed just knowing my friends are there fills my soul with the promise of hope.

Walk gently on the path my friends; may this season bring you peace.

Morning Star

So fellow travelers, Venus has reclaimed her status as the “morning star.”

Venus at  06.35am 12.20.2018 

Ancient Greeks recognized certain heavenly bodies moved through the sky unlike the stars which had fixed positions. They named them planan which means “wanderer.”

Gazing up at bright Venus early this morning, my heart filled with gratitude, knowing my own young wanderer was sleeping safe and warm in her room upstairs.

Morning star shines bright

One who wanders rests at home

Mother’s heart is full

May your holiday season be blessed by the presence of loved ones.

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

Turkey soup

So fellow travelers, home again and a heavenly aroma fills my kitchen.

One downside to traveling rather than hosting for Thanksgiving is not having the base to make turkey soup, which stands out as my favorite Thanksgiving leftover.

No worries this year though, as my sister-in-law gave me a carcass, drumsticks and wings from one of the turkeys served at our big family feast.

As delicious smells rise from the simmering crockpot I remember the sacred moments of this year’s gatherings as well as those of decades past and words began to waft around my brain.

Turkey soup from bones

Memories infuse the broth

With family love

It’s a gift more precious than any Black Friday deal to be blessed by the love of family, near or far. Comfort and joy cooked into each spoonful of sacred soup.

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

Saved by Gratitude

So fellow travelers, today in the United States it is Thanksgiving Day. It is my favorite holiday because it’s primary focus is on two of my favorite human experiences: family and food, wrapped in an atmosphere of my favorite spiritual practice: gratitude.

Even though this is another year without our daughters joining us at the table, we are blessed with extended family whom we gather with to celebrate. I am grateful for our family, as I am for many things in my life: a comfortable home, good friends, gainful employment, reliable transportation, freedom of expression, places of solitude where the raw  beauty of nature restores my spirit; the list can be infinitely expanded on.

Yet most of all I am grateful for gratitude because gratitude honestly saved my life.

In the darkest of hours, when I questioned the purpose of the path I found myself  required to navigate, it was the conscious practice of gratitude which kept the embers of hope and faith alive within my struggling soul. True, there were many times when all I could find to be grateful for was the end of another day of troubling experiences, yet even then, the act of sitting in silence for a few moments and focusing on the simplest of things I was thankful for,

a favorite meal,

a moment of laughter shared with a friend,

pajamas,

the sound of frogs by my pond,

my dog curled up beside me,

these thoughts cast drops of goodness into the dark pool of despair, creating ripples of comfort and hope. There is no doubt in my mind that those few moments of simple gratitude are the life line which kept faith and love alive in my heart. So I am indeed most thankful for gratitude. Even as time has brought healing, this practice of gratitude is now part of my day, something I hope will become as natural as breathing, it is that essential to my existence.

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A favorite dinner on a trip to Portland Oregon

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Autumn Glow

So fellow travelers, a few days ago a vision of wind driven golden light caught my eye from an upstairs window.


I had taken a mental health day to reset my perspective and that day had brought sunshine and milder temperatures, rare gifts for November in upstate NY.

I’ve been working on tying up some loose ends left unattended while my energies were hijacked by situations my team at work had to deal with for so long. While that concern has been “resolved,” allowing work to become once again a fulfilling part of my day, I am still addressing the residual impact two years of continuous, escalating stress had on my health and marriage. My husband, good man and devoted father that he is, struggles with knowing how to support me when I am in a crisis. Wounds from his own past have left scars which bind his heart and emotions, something I do my best to be mindful of but easily lose sight of when I am in turmoil.

Blessed with several solid groups of friends both at and beyond work, I managed to get through the worst moments. Now I can see while we tried desperately to get help for someone slipping into darkness just how hard I had to fight to keep from being pulled over that edge too. Love for my family guarded my heart and friends became my lifeline. So when a misunderstanding threatened to fracture some of those friendships, it sent a shock wave through my current peace of mind. It’s disheartening when genuine apologies generate more hurt than healing.

Taking a day for reflection and self care meant I could chase that glorious vision outside my window. I grabbed a daypack and headed for a favorite trail to track the elusive light of changing seasons.


Bright leaves, so late to put in an apperance this year flew everywhere, urged on by an unseasonably warmish wind. County Parks workers were hard at work getting the annual Holiday Lights on the Lake displays in place for the season.

Santa’s flying sleigh is a favorite, sure to elicit “oh’s” and “ah’s” when driving through .


Park residents  reserving their spot for the kick off event early next week

 

As Delilah stalked fat squirrels who were too focused on foraging to mind the many dogs passing by, I caught tantilizing glimpses of Light everywhere.

 

 

Perched on a picnic table, watching sunlight dance on the water, I remembered an important lesson: Reactions of others are more about them than us. When we ask ourselves “What is this person’s response telling me about their inner landscape?” it often clarifies and helps us separate our personal issues from others. Taking responsibility for our part of a misunderstanding and acknowleding another person’s feelings does not obligate us to take on someone’s hurt, anger or sadness. If we offer peace it will return to us all in good time.

 

Feelings come and go

like leaves blown about by wind

only love remains

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