Wednesday, February 10, 2010

No Little Thing

As in many parts of the East today, this has been a day to remember. A snow of snows following hard on a previous snow of snows a few days ago. A day, not of staying inside warm by the fire, but of re-shoveling almost invisible paths that wind their way to feeders in the far reaches of the yard. I do not mind the heavy snows. I only mind that they make food sources scarce and keeping feeders open difficult. But for the most part my labors were rewarded, the birds were able to find enough to eat and now that the darkness has come, I am relaxing knowing that I need not venture out again until morning.

My husband and I are preparing to leave a home and yard that I have been working on for 20 years. For the first number of years here I fretted and wished to live some place wilder, some place more beautiful and more secluded than was our half acre lot sited on a rural road lined with other similar houses. But in the last few years, as the gardens and habitat have matured and dozens of birds and pollinators made this place their home, I have known a new peace, gratified in the realization that that to which I couldn't seem to move I created here instead.

There are special, individual memories here, unexpected snapshots of life in the wild, lived under our very noses....toads emerging last spring from a window-well just off the driveway under whose leaves they had apparently slept through the winter; a bright male cardinal walking along the top of a fence back at the herb garden, plunging from the fence into a patch of rue time and time again and only after careful inspection through binoculars could I tell that he was plucking small black-swallowtail caterpillars to take back to his hungry babies; witnessing a Coopers hawk's in-the-blink-of-an-eye abduction of a young gray catbird just five feet from where I was standing; the sight of hundreds of fireflies lifting off at dusk like so many tiny Tinkerbells in Neverland.

As I look back on my life to this point, raising my children stands out as my greatest accomplishment. But making it possible for this land to raise countless generations of life of all kinds surely ranks almost as high. When we leave and move on what work, I wonder, will be credited to me? By what means will I benefit the earth and the people who live upon it in my new setting? A friend, just today sent me a quote by St Teresa of Avila that affirms what I have learned from living on my small bit of land in my small, humble home. "Do you think it is only a little thing to possess a house from which lovely things can be seen?" No, indeed. No little thing at all...I may not yet know what the future in an unfamiliar place will hold. But what I do know, having learned and lived here, is that there will always be something I can do to add beauty and sustain life no matter where I reside. For as long as I am able, I know this to be a work God has apportioned to me. Wherever I live I will be working to create "lovely things" knowing that they are the life source that nourish the other creatures who share this world. No little thing, indeed.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Winter Doldrums

Sometimes, at this time of year, no matter how many "talking-to's" I give myself and no matter how many good intentions to the contrary, I fall into what I can only call the winter doldrums. The recent severe cold and biting winds have accentuated my vulnerability to this winter-induced glumness and admitting that I am weak in this regard seems wiser than denial. I recognize I am not alone in these afflictions and at the same time wonder why some people don't seem to have much trouble with winter, and in fact, look forward to it...though by mid-February I don't know if I have ever heard anyone say, "Boy I wish this freezing weather would last all year."

Winter is still a blessing for those who plant for wildlife and put up bird feeders, however. Hosting the birds and other wildlife that come to share the bounty is its own reward and watching their antics is guaranteed to lift the spirits. During this time of bitter weather the yard has been as active as I have ever seen it, with white-crowned, white-throated and song sparrows busily scavenging on the ground, accompanied by mourning doves and juncos. At least one pair of downy woodpeckers feeds on the homemade peanut butter suet mixture and the peanut feeder, along with chickadees, titmice and white-breasted nuthatches joined, now and then, by an imposing red-bellied woodpecker. The mockingbird and blue birds are feeding at the winterberry bushes, having already eaten most of the old dried crab apples and the goldfinches are still gleaning seeds from the dried asters and goldenrod, and from the sweet gum tree's pointy seed balls.

Recently, while watching the eastern bluebirds and northern mockingbirds, normally insect eaters in the warmer months, I had a question that perhaps could help me prepare for my own trying winter times. Every fall, these two birds must go through a profound change in their feeding habits as the insects they had previously depended upon give way to the cold. They travel as far as need be to find the berries that will sustain them until spring and from all appearances, they do so without grumbling, stomping their little feet or complaining that winter is upon them. Wasting energy on negativity would not help them survive and, in fact, would weaken them. It occurs to me that perhaps they are among the best examples of those who seek out that which sustains life, no matter what their external circumstances. I will ponder their flexibility for a while, considering what their cold-weather habits might have to say to me as I seek to approach these winter months with a more positive attitude.

"Consider the birds of the air" has taken on a new meaning.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

The New Year's Wintertime

It is the third day of the new year, at least as we count time. How does the earth count time, I wonder? Would it count from the beginning of the growing season or the ending? Would the earth's fiscal year stretch from harvest to harvest? At what time of year are tree rings laid down and at what point is new growth on turtle shells distinct? And how in the world do shallow rooted plants and hibernating frogs live through this frozen time of year, emerging again to welcome spring when the time comes?

This day, it is hard to believe that spring will ever really arrive...hard to believe that those invisible forbs and buried frogs can possibly live through what seems the cruelty of winter. This is the season in which my faith is sorely tested and tried as I strain my imagination to believe that renewed life is even possible, let alone likely. The words of In the Bleak Mid-Winter come to mind right now... In the bleak mid-winter, frosty winds made moan. Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone. Today, where I live, the ground is frozen as solid as concrete and the winds are bitter and unrelenting, and yet...

And yet, a poem I came across in a British magazine many years ago always brings comfort through the long and trying months of winter, whether my winter be simply the season of the year, or a season of change or perhaps grief. It speaks of purpose during this time of forced waiting, of rest that fuels new growth when the time is right. I have found over the years that it is during these trying times of seeming inaction that our spirits can be fed and deepened if we will but cooperate.

A Time to Meditate

The heart must have its wintertime,
A time to meditate, when peace
Like snow, descends with calming grace
And all life's fruitless worries cease.

The heart must have its wintertime
A time when dreams, like roots, can sleep
And gather strength until the day
They have a rendezvous to keep.

The heart must have its wintertime
An interlude when hope sprouts wings
As bright as any cardinals
And newborn courage softly sings.

The heart must have its time of snow
To rest in silence and to grow.

May God in His mercy give our souls the time of quiet we need now in order to tackle whatever it is that will come next in our lives. And may He grant us patience and attentiveness to His abundant provision as we move forward.