Spring is host to many different kinds of ephemerals: ponds, wildflowers and insects, to name a few broad categories. Nature is ever-changing; habitats and inhabitants come and go. Yet humans often like to think of themselves as permanent and solid (‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings: Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’). This is a great irony, given our surroundings. To live in the moment, to appreciate your own presence and transience in the same breath — there is the key to living gracefully! To realize life is as beautiful and fleeting as frost on my window,…
as powerful and swift as a rush of laughter.
It flickers like a candle flame: mesmerizing, warm and ultimately fragile….
…while surrounded by mighty forces which shape its destiny.
Yes, my life is ephemeral, but LIFE is an ongoing flow that fills the aeons.
I took this photo at the Milwaukee Zoo last March. Usually, it’s hard to spot a badger even at the zoo, as they like to dig and burrow by nature and are not as active in the daytime. However, the warming temperatures brought this one out to enjoy some sunshine. In captivity, the average badger lifespan is Sweet 16, but not in the wild. The oldest wild badger was but 14 years old. These animals prefer a solitary lifestyle. Typically, you won’t find more than 5 badgers in a square kilometer. They are not party animals. They are skilled diggers with powerful jaws. They prey on rodents and other earth-dwellers and supplement their diet with corn and sunflower seeds. They wisely store and cache food as well.
Badger meat has been included in some cultures’ cuisine, such as French and North American; their fur was used in the past to make shaving and paint brushes because of its fine ability to retain water. Its greatest predator is, in fact, humans. They destroy their habitat and sometimes poison them to stop them from digging tunnels in pasture land. However, in British Columbia, Michigan, Illinois and Wisconsin, hunting badgers is illegal. I’m glad.
“Fresh and refresh were sitting in a boat…” (anyone remember that old joke about Pete and Repeat?) Would you believe I’ve been waiting for 20 minutes now for my computer to wake up and let me access my photo files? How many times have I hit ‘refresh’?
I have also been waiting (rather impatiently, again) for signs of spring. Finally, the temperatures got warmer last week, and I saw the first scilla siberica pop up in the garden. Can you believe something as tender as this little flower can crack through the crusty earth? What is the force behind its penetrating power?
It must be the power of Life, of change and renewal. (To see a photo essay I did recently entitled: Renewed Like An Eagle – A Spiritual Lesson from Nature, click here.) I am winter weary and ready for fresh growth. I can’t wait for more of Life bursting from the soil!
Happy St. Patrick’s Day! I woke up with Irish on my mind – soda bread and potatoes and cabbage soup and immigrants. As a costumed historic interpreter at Old World Wisconsin, I told the story of Mary Hafford, an Irish immigrant, and worked in her house. She had been widowed in the year 1868 with 3 small children and lived as a renter in a small village near Watertown, WI. Mary Hafford worked away at her home laundry business and eventually achieved social and economic prominence in her little village. In 1885, she had a new house constructed on the property that she had bought. She never learned to read or write, but her children did. Her youngest daughter, Ellen, studied dressmaking, a skilled trade, and became a live-in dressmaker. Ellen was married in 1891, and her mother hosted a reception and dinner for 75 guests. Three months later, Mary Hafford died of dropsy. I imagine Ellen Hafford Thompson and wonder what stories she might have written about her life in the Little House where she lived. I have a burning question: what happened to her older sister, Ann, who is conspicuously absent from all records from the mid-1880s on? Did she die? If so, why isn’t she buried next to her father & mother? Did she go into a convent? Did she elope with a Lutheran? The mystery remains unsolved!
Mary Hafford’s family has died out; she had one grandson who went into the priesthood, and there her bloodline was cut off. My children have 2 Irish great-grandmothers, one on my side and one on their dad’s side. Marion Minto Keefe (possibly O’Keefe originally) was my grandmother. Mabelle Claire Mahanna was my husband’s grandmother. I used to wake them up on St. Paddy’s Day with “Top o’ the marnin’ to ya, dear!” at which they’d groan and ask me if I was going to talk in that fake accent all day. The groans subsided at the thought of the corned beef dinner I always made. I remind them now of their heritage via text message and think wistfully of the hint of green in their eyes — two daughters with brown eyes flecked with green, and my two middles, boy and girl, with blue-green-gray eyes. I hope that green will remain on the land and in the eyes of its people for many years. (For a beautiful reading of an Irish Blessing poem, by a real Irishman, visit my friend Jamie’s blog here.)
Do you remember when your baby teeth fell out? Do you have any memories of being without central incisors, lisping and whistling when you spoke, unable to bite into an apple or an ear of corn? How much do you remember of the physical changes associated with your passage through puberty?
Would you ever choose to re-live those changes? (I imagine in response a loud chorus of ‘Noooo!’ and laughter.)
Why do we find change so awkward and uncomfortable? Why do we imagine a state of perfection achieved and unchanged, and why is that stasis desired? Consider this: change is natural; metamorphoses are observed and documented in every species — birth, maturation, reproduction, aging, death, decay, absorption, and birth. All around us there is a process of movement, going from one thing to another, losing some properties and gaining others. This is Life. It is dynamic; it is not good or bad; it is. Often, however, we decide we like where we are. We want to stay put. It’s familiar. It’s comfortable. But we are, in fact, stuck, and it takes a great deal of energy to stay there, resisting the current of Life all around. We feel drained, exhausted, spent, sapped, worn out. We want to feel the flow of energy again, but in order to do that, we must make a change. Fear holds us back. This is a pivotal point of decision – we must choose Change to choose Life.
The Old Testament talks about having youth renewed like the eagles’, about mounting up with wings as eagles and being borne on the wings of an eagle. Golden eagles populated the Holy Land, and their lifespans were observable to the ancient poets. I have seen bald eagles in the wild on a few occasions now, but not before I was 45 years old. What do I know of an eagle’s life? I did a little research. Southwestern Bald Eagle Managementtold me “In their five year development to adulthood, bald eagles go through one of the most varied plumage changes of any North American bird. During its first four weeks of life, an eaglet’s fluffy white down changes to a gray wooly down. At about five weeks, brown and black feathers begin to grow. It becomes fully feathered at 10 weeks of age. In its first year, the mostly dark-colored juvenile can often be mistaken as a golden eagle. However, the bald eagle progressively changes until it reaches adult plumage at five years. Notice in the pictures how its dark eye lightens throughout its first four years of life until it becomes yellow. Also, see how its beak changes from gray-black to a vibrant yellow. It is believed that the darker, more mottled plumage of a young eagle serves as camouflage, while the white head and tail announce that it is of breeding age.”
Renewal is for the purpose of maturity. It is not about going back to a juvenile state. It is about soaring with the movement of Life toward the next place of energy. It is not about resuscitation; it is about resurrection. We shall all be changed.
My daughter recommended to me a book titled Being Mortal by Atul Gawande. The author is a medical doctor and a gerontologist. He tackles the real and practical implications of growing old and dying in this culture: nursing homes, DNR orders and advance directives, heroic life-saving surgeries, hospice and what it is to live with meaning and dignity. This book terrified me. I read it in small doses. It made me face denial and delusions head on. It was not a comfortable read, but I would recommend it to anyone. It puts Change in the forefront and invites you to get real. I would not have been able to read it 7 years ago, right after my husband died. I wasn’t ready. The book I read then that helped me to accept change was Pema Chodron’s book WhenThings Fall Apart (which I recently discovered is a phrase from Yeats’ poem “The Second Coming”).
Where are you in the flow of Life? Where are you stuck? What are you afraid of when you face Change? How have you embraced Maturity? How have you run from it? What images of Peace in harmony with Change are meaningful to you? These may be your symbols of Renewal. Here are a few of mine:
I have been invited by Terry of Through the Lens of My Lifeto participate in a Five Day Challenge. Each day, I will post a photo and write a story to go along with it. (I probably will interpret the term ‘story’ quite loosely. I do that.) I will also invite one person each day to take up this challenge on his/her blog. This challenge has been a lot of fun! It’s interesting to see where my brain makes connections between fact and fiction and how an image is a jumping off place for those associations.
This last little story is called “The Gold Coast”:
Jake is a bit of a space cadet, but he’s harmless. He does things like arranging the dried kelp on the beach into celebrity images. His Leonard Nimoy was quite touching, given the timing. He’s rather a local hero in Santa Cruz. You can see him cruising the volleyball courts near the boardwalk in the early morning, chatting up the homeless and delivering donuts. Seagulls follow him around because he chats them up, too, while providing breakfast. The other day, he gave an impromptu lecture on the California Gold Rush of 1850 from the middle of the wharf. Between his barking and the sea lions’, a small crowd of curious tourists gathered. Somehow, he managed to convince them that you could still find gold on the beach where the river emptied out, just beyond the eucalyptus grove. A few of them followed him to the spot. “Now, it’s only just flakes that are left,” he began. “You can say that again!” one of the gawkers snickered. “…so ya gotta get down real close, combat-style, to see ’em. Right down on your belly in the sand, dude, like this, and follow their trail to the sea!” Yup, Jake is a real scenic attraction. You never know where he’ll turn up next.
— Next, I invite you to visitVictoria Slottoat her blog. She is a published poet and author who is delving a bit more deeply into her photography as well. Peruse her site for lots of beautiful images, verbal and digital, and stories that will spark your own connections. She does quite a few writing prompt challenges, so there are lots already there in her archives.
“All in all, you’re just another brick in the wall.” Pink Floyd (my very first impulse; it’s always a song)
The wailing wall, the Berlin wall, the Great Wall of China…so many iconic walls. What about the wall we put up when our privacy is threatened or when our emotions are about to bubble over, and we don’t want to seem vulnerable? Walls and boundaries, according to Steve, are useful at times, but he hopes they are all only temporary. His goal is to be open, always. (You can probably guess he’s a pretty confident person. Me? I like to have somewhere safe to hide.) Fences and walls in poetry: Robert Frost “Mending Wall” (‘Something there is that doesn’t love a wall’ – yeah, like Steve) and D. H. Lawrence “Snake”(the snake comes out of an earth-wall into his water trough and…well, read the poem. It’s good.) My wall of photos, or my photos of Wall:
Whew! So many walls…gotta go out and walk in open space now. It’s almost Spring – I may even leave my parka behind!